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Last week in Sweden – a Covid report (September 28 – October 4)

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 the first of my weekly roundups to be translated into English.
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(Read this post in Swedish)

5,895 people have now died with Covid-19 in Sweden, an increase of 15 fatalities since last week. For some time now, the number of deaths per week has been within the normal range for the time of year, and the number of intensive care cases has remained stable at around 20 in recent weeks. Yet infection is on the increase in Sweden.

It may, however, be appropriate to point out what a difference there is during this autumn when compared to the spring. In the spring, success and failure was measured in the number of deaths, and now we refer to the total number of infections. While it’s true that the number of recorded infections has not been this high since July, none of the curves for fatalities, ICU cases or hospitalizations correlate with that increase.

(yellow line: cases by day, green: deaths by day, red: total hospitalizations, blue: total ICU)

All of this is of course due to the huge increase in testing now performed in Sweden. While testing this spring was limited to those who needed hospital care, now even those with mild symptoms can be tested. This explains why Sweden does not see the same increase in the number of deaths, ICU cases or that – as the red line in the graph above indicates – the total number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is increasing.
This might also explain why the R number (the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to) can fall below 1: Sweden excludes mild cases (see point 3, ”Data”) when calculating the R number.

In spite of all this, an increase in infections can of course have serious consequences, and it’s clear there’s an increase: in the Public Health Agency’s weekly report for week 39, they wrote of a slight decrease in the total number of tests, but a sharp increase in the proportion testing positive. Measured in absolute numbers, there was a 40 percent increase in positive tests compared with the week before.

A statistically secure increase occurred across all age groups.

It is mainly the youngest who are driving up infections, from late adolescence up to the age of 20. This trend continued during week 40. Parties are a continuing problem, and this week there were reports that a large university start-of-term party in Mälardalen has resulted in a hundred confirmed infections so far.
In Stockholm, the situation around the increase in infections is described as ”alarming”. Infections have almost doubled for the third week in a row in the region. In Västra Götaland, infections have increased for the fourth week in a row and in short, infections are on a steady and even increase throughout Sweden.
As a countermeasure, there have been a range of efforts during the week: The Minister for Education has called for more considerate behavior from students and has threatened to close schools if necessary. Authorities in Stockholm announced that a fine of SEK 25,000 will be issued to bars and restaurants that fail to implement social distancing. Most specifically, a new recommendation is in place whereby those living with someone with a suspected case of Covid-19 should now stay at home. A decision is made by a doctor following contact tracing, and exemptions exist for primary school students or those with antibodies.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has also said that the conditions and restrictions relating to the pandemic should be expected to endure for a year and former state epidemiologist Johan Giesecke believes it has the potential to last even longer. This has made many people wonder why those over 70 years seem to shoulder the most responsibility, while young people are out spreading the virus.

Just as infections are increasing, Sweden is easing several restrictions:

On Thursday, the decision to allow visits to nursing homes was implemented, and on Tuesday, the government announced their intention to lift the limit of 50 people at gatherings.

It was surprising for the government to lift the 50-person restriction on gatherings, because as recently as last week they wouldn’t commit to new decisions on account of the state of infections.
This week, however, two new decisions were announced:
1) Restaurants do not have to limit guests to 50 in the event of a performance by an artist. Venues may retain their exception to the 50-person rule, even if an artist performs.
2) The attendance limit for gatherings CAN be increased to 500 if the audience is seated with one-meter spacing. The decision will be made no earlier than October 8 and will then take effect on October 15.
The reason the government waited to issue the latter proposal is the infection situation and now they hope it will be improved by October 8. Sports are cheered, as is the cultural sector, not least because they’ll also receive additional support totaling SEK 2.5 billion.

The international image of Sweden continues to be divided. The New York Times has written another in a series of reports about Sweden’s handling of the pandemic, this time positive, but without adding much of anything new. More interesting is The Atlantic’s report which tries to look beyond the R and instead looks at variable K, attempting to understand how the pandemic strikes so unevenly and in clusters. In a long article, they go over an example of how it could be applied to Sweden. Above all, the piece clarifies how Sweden must cease to be the example by which the whole world measures itself.
Not that anyone is listening. This week, a Croatian liberal newspaper has found a strangely favorable angle while others are lying by suggesting that Sweden has declared the pandemic over. British MP Michael Fabricant is also lying, saying as he does that Sweden is about to introduce strict lockdowns:

And so it continues: CNN warns of Sweden and The Sun calls on the world to try the Swedish approach.

This week’s news in brief:

  • Up to 4,000 Swedes have undiagnosed cancer. Reports from the Regional Cancer Center in Uppsala state that screenings usually taking place have been canceled as a result of the pandemic. Now SKR believes that it should be discussed whether it was right to suspend screenings.
  • Swedish Radio has continued its investigation of how Sweden has handled the pandemic. This week, they discussed the failure of care homes at the beginning of the pandemic to help their elderly residents to go to the toilet, and how other elderly people were given palliative care without their relatives being informed. 
  • DN reported this week on the same topic, that early in the pandemic, the National Board of Health and Welfare toned down advice to use oxygen in treatment, as they found out that oxygen was in short supply in nursing homes.
  • Norway’s state epidemiologist received threats from Swedes when he criticized his Swedish counterpart, Anders Tegnell. ”It’s interesting, you want strong leaders when there is a crisis. In Sweden it’s Tegnell, but in Norway it hasn’t been me. I’m happy about that”, says Forland.
  • Sweden’s economy is getting better. Swedish industry is improving, according to the purchasing managers’ index, and other analysts believe that there are many indications that the country is now recovering financially in other areas as well.

That’s all for this week. If you think something’s missing, write a comment!

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This article is written under the CC-BY license, and is free to share and republish as long as you link back here.

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