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Last Week in Sweden: a Covid Report – Swedish deaths hit record high for second consecutive week as vaccine delivery fears grow

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, I’ve been summarizing on a weekly basis the most important and talked about happenings from a Swedish perspective. This is week 2 of 2021 (January 10-17).

(This article was originally posted in Swedish)

10,323 people have now died with Covid-19 in Sweden; an increase of 890 reported deaths compared to last week. This is the highest reported weekly figure for the second week in a row. Last week’s high numbers could largely be explained by delays in reporting from the Christmas holidays, which will probably be echoed this week as well, but apparently numbers are coming in on top of an already high mortality rate. As usual, the reported deaths did not occur last week, with the majority going back one or more weeks. This week, for example, it became clear that at least 118 people had died on December 17, making it the deadliest day of the pandemic so far. The previous record was held by two dates in April, both with 115 deaths. Aside from the 17th, we already know of another date in December with higher mortality than the April dates: December 28, with 116 deaths. It is still the elderly who are absolutely the hardest hit, something state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell this week claimed is, in his opinion, one of the strangest behaviors of the virus. Citizens over 70 now account for 91 percent of all deaths.

Number of new fatalities in the last 30 days
The diagram shows when fatalities occurred over the last 30 days. There are a further 34 fatalities that still have an unclear date.

The number of deaths in Sweden during 2020, regardless of cause of death, was 97,164 according to preliminary figures from Statistics Sweden. That number is 6,202 greater than the average of the last five years, and similar to that of 1993, a year when the flu was unusually strong. I have written more about how to best interpret these figures in an earlier article. The reason why there aren’t more deaths is due to the Swedish health service. Their work to halve mortality during the pandemic has kept the figure from being even higher.

When it comes to hospitalizations and the burden on the system, we see perhaps the happiest news of the week: for the first time in many months, the number of hospital admissions is decreasing, and the numbers are dropping right across Sweden. As early as last week, I was able to report that the plateau Stockholm was on had started to trend downwards. It has now continued and since then, the rest of the country’s health services have also begun to see a positive trend. All this a most welcome message for a healthcare system where Sweden’s regions have been forced to activate crisis agreements in order to manage healthcare for a majority of Swedes.

The number of confirmed cases in Sweden passed the half million mark this week, yet the Christmas holidays make it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from the data. Speaking of milestones, we can note that this week it’s been exactly one year since Covid-19 was first mentioned by Swedish authorities.

Vaccine. Sweden has now started publishing a weekly readout of how many vaccine doses have been delivered and used. At the beginning of the week, 170,000 doses had been delivered, but only half had been administered. This is because several regions have seen reports of delayed vaccine production, which would mean that those already vaccinated would not receive a second dose.

Table: Compilation of delivered and used doses per week, as well as in total.
År, vecka = year, week; Levererat = delivered; Förbrukat = used

There seems to have been justification for that concern. Partly because we’ve seen proof that two doses really are necessary, with reports this week that eight people in Gothenburg had been infected with coronavirus even though they’d received their first dose of the vaccine. Partly also because the vaccine was this week confirmed to be delayed. Sweden’s regional administrations believe, therefore, that they’ll continue to keep doses in reserve, despite the recommendation to consume those available. In practice, Sweden will receive 15 percent fewer doses in the next four weeks and 25 percent fewer next week, something the government has branded unacceptable. The reason behind the delay is that the manufacturer wants to increase production in the long run.

Some healthcare staff have refused vaccination this week, for a number of reasons. In some cases, refusal has been because there hadn’t yet been a government guarantee issued for the new vaccine, something that was quickly resolved this week. In other cases, it’s been about conspiracies and fear. In Burlöv – a small municipality on the outskirts of Malmö – 42 percent of the employees at municipality nursing homes have refused the vaccine, according to a survey during the holidays. The opposition Moderate party has now demanded that staff be vaccinated or face redeployment. Lies and conspiracies continue to spread online, and national daily tabloid Expressen reviewed and published the names and pictures of several of those who most frequently spread conspiracies. During the week, a number of conspiracies have spread enormously through articles from alternative media, with tips on how best to refuse vaccines as a healthcare employee, as well as allegations that many have died or suffered severe side effects. Of the 80,000 people vaccinated so far, there have only been five deaths in connection with the vaccine, which is to be expected as it is currently some of the most fragile who are being vaccinated. None of the cases are considered to be a direct result of vaccination but are still being investigated, with the first case found this week to be unrelated to the vaccine. A total of 38 suspected cases of side effects have been reported so far, with no instances of any as-yet-unknown side effects.

In total, 8 out of 10 people in Sweden want to be vaccinated, according to a new survey.

The King and Queen have received their first dose of the vaccine, despite the fact that the first phase of vaccinations, targeted towards healthcare staff and the most fragile, is not yet complete. In Sweden, the Prime Minister and state officials have not been given priority in receiving the vaccine, but local infection control still judged it appropriate for the king to be vaccinated ‘early’. Of course this made a clear contribution to the vaccine debate.

The King writes: The great vaccination against Covid-19 is now underway in our country. It’s my hope that everybody who has the opportunity to vaccinate themselves in the coming months chooses to do so, so that we might – together, and as soon as possible – get through this difficult time.

The list of ministers breaking recommendations continues to grow, as we learn that the Minister of Defense traveled abroad on three occasions during the autumn. It also turned out that the Director General of The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, Dan Eliasson, received SEK 300,000 for unused holidays, as he did not use vacation days during the trips abroad that later led to his resignation. The Prime Minister appeared on state broadcaster SVT with his wife and discussed, among other things, his Christmas shopping at a mall in Stockholm, despite the fact that he advised others not to do the same. Also this week, Anders Tegnell was seen out shopping at a home improvement store; he needed oil for his chainsaw.

Parliament assembled this week for the first debate of the year. The Christian Democrat party leader was responsible for most of the outbursts, perhaps because the party received their worst polling numbers for two years the same week. At first, she wrongly claimed that pediatric cancer surgeries were canceled in Gothenburg and Stockholm. She then accused the government of having discussed the benefits of infecting the population, something that was rejected outright by other party leaders.

The debate around the spread of infection in schools continues, and a columnist in the Swedish Teachers’ Union magazine offered an excellent analysis. A large part of teachers’ anger is about data published by the Swedish Public Health Agency, showing that almost half of all outbreaks come from schools. It gave a skewed picture of reality, said the Public Health Agency, which therefore decided to stop publishing the data.

This week’s news in brief:

Finally:

As mentioned earlier, the debate around schools and measures against the spread of infection rages on. One of the more comical contributions was this post from a teacher who wanted to share the helpful equipment she’d received with a healthy dose of sarcasm. She noted on Twitter that teachers hadn’t received face masks, visors or hand sanitizer for their students, but that they had received a wooden ruler displaying a ’keep your distance’ slogan.

https://twitter.com/cinni76/status/1349979243703398400

That’s all for this week, let me know in the comments if you think there’s something missing!

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