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Last week in Sweden – a Covid summary (October 25 – November 1, 2020)

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 44.

(This story was originally published in swedish)

Perhaps we can begin by mentioning that this blog is now nominated for The Swedish Grand Prize for Journalism! Of course, I am deeply grateful and delighted for the nomination.

5,938 people have now died with Covid-19 in Sweden, which is an increase of 5 deaths in comparison with last week. The record should have shown 30 additional deaths, but during the week the figure for the total number of deaths was adjusted downwards by 30. This has happened in the past, and occurs when a region conducts a review of its medical records and notices that a patient has died more than 30 days after testing positive for Covid-19. This does not necessarily mean that the cases disappear from the National Board of Health and Welfare’s final registration of deaths with Covid-19 (which is based on medical reports), but means that they do not correspond to the Public Health Agency’s definition.

Fatalities are at a relatively low and stable level, but the number of people admitted to intensive care units is trending sharply upwards, although the increase is slightly less steep than last week and is still made up of relatively low numbers:

X axis: date / Y axis: number of patients
Orange: Covid cases (reported earlier) / Blue: Covid cases (reported today)

Worse at the moment is the spread of infection. The Swedish Public Health Agency reports its verified figures with a one-week delay, and week 43 is the highest ever recorded number of confirmed infections in a single week. At 9,163 cases, this is an increase of 63 percent compared with the week before, and figures also show the highest number of tests since the beginning of the pandemic, with a total of 164,000. The increased demand can be partly explained by an escalation in common cold viruses in Sweden over recent weeks, but in general more and more tests are positive; 5.6 percent, compared to 3.9 percent the previous week. Once again, nobody needs reminding that the record level is not about the fact that there are now more cases than during the spring, but that Sweden only tested those who needed hospital care at the time.

Total number of completed tests; number of positive (green) and negative (purple) tests.

The spread of infection is increasing across all age groups, but the oldest and youngest age groups are faring best, with those over 70 having the smallest increase. It is too early to say that this could be connected to eased restrictions for the over 70s, but this week the decision to ease them has faced harsh criticism.

X axis: week / Y axis: cases per 100,000

The statistics also show worrying trends among children, especially those in their late teens. Despite this, new research shows that children in particular are not a driver for the spread of infection, instead broadly following the general trend of transmission.

Perhaps worst of all is that infections are increasing in nursing homes as well. This comes three weeks after the national ban on visiting homes was lifted.

X axis: week / Y axis: cases

As if that wasn’t enough, week 44 looks set to set even more new records. Statistics for the week have so far only been compiled until the first half of Thursday, but already show more cases than the week before. Below is a graph of reported confirmed cases, day by day over the last three weeks, with week 44 only showing until mid-Thursday.

It’s on this basis that four more regions have pulled the emergency brake this week. Not necessarily because the situation is worse than in the spring, but mainly because the regions’ test and trace capabilities have reached capacity, Anders Tegnell explained to Swedish Television’s nightly news.

Skåne was first, and decided as early as Monday to introduce strong restrictions, after a sharp increase in infections during week 43. Skåne is the southernmost of Sweden’s counties, containing the third city of Malmö, other cities including Helsingborg and the university city of Lund, as well as also forming the Øresund city-region along with nearby Copenhagen.

Skåne, confirmed cases: 9,981 (724.4 per 100,000 pop.);
+465 new cases at Oct 30; +3,055 (221.7 per 100,000 pop.) last 14 days

After that came Stockholm, Västra Götaland and Östergötland on Thursday.
Stockholm is the region with the greatest number of cases.

Stockholm, confirmed cases: 34,937 (1,469.7 per 100,000 pop.);
+786 new cases at Oct 30; +6,213 (261.4 per 100,000 pop.) last 14 days

Västra Götaland has roughly half as many, yet is showing serious signs of escalation. Västra Götaland is the county containing the second city of Gothenburg, as well as other conurbations including Borås, Trollhättan, Skövde and Uddevalla.

Västra Götaland, confirmed cases: 24,896 (1,442.5 per 100,000 pop.);
+480 new cases at Oct 30; +3.416 (197.9 per 100,000 pop.) last 14 days

In Östergötland we see perhaps the strongest upward curve, at least as measured in a single day. Östergötland is a county in the south east of Sweden, and is home to cities including Linköping, Norrköping and Motala.

Östergötland, confirmed cases: 5,636 (1,210.8 per 100,000 pop.);
+65 new cases at Oct 30; +1,081 (232.2 per 100,000 pop.) last 14 days

The new recommendations are in force for at least three weeks, and in short, advise adults to:

  • Avoid public indoor environments
  • Avoid meetings and sports practices
  • Where possible, avoid physical contact with anyone besides members of your household.

In Skåne, in addition to those you live with, you can also meet up with ”those you’d meet every week”, but in other regions it is emphasized that the advice is exactly as harsh as it sounds. Infection Control in Västra Götaland clarifies that ”physical contact” means contact closer than 1.5 metres, and to avoid all dinners and private events. Despite this, cinemas and shopping centers continue to be open (even though the audience limit of 300 has been brought back down to 50). State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell does not think the general public will have a hard time understanding the message: meet fewer people.

This week, Sweden’s health minister threatened that the new, tougher measures are only the beginning if we fail to conform. Despite the warnings, the streets of Sweden’s bigger cities have remained crowded after the new advisories were announced, with busy scenes also at the high-profile inauguration of Stockholm’s new ”golden bridge”. Even the planes jetting off to vacation hotspots have been packed during the autumn school break.

Swedes are showing record high confidence in Anders Tegnell. The state epidemiologist currently boasts 72 percent in public confidence, higher than the previous record of 68% in April, according to DN/Ipsos. The Swedish Public Health Agency almost broke records, too, but polled at 68 percent confidence, one percentage point below the record set in April. In general, trust seems to follow the development of the spread of infection.

Share in percent of those when questioned responded with either very high or high confidence for the Swedish Public Health Agency

The Tegnell hype continues even on the slightly lighter front. During Halloween, someone took the opportunity to carve out the best or scariest thing they could think of: Anders Tegnell in pumpkin form.

Sweden’s vaccine coordinator told TV4 this week that Sweden could see the introduction of a vaccine as soon as at the beginning of 2021, if everything goes according to plan. November will be a critical month, during which more information will start to arrive as to when the first vaccines could be rolled out. Other researchers warn that it remains uncertain whether the first vaccines will work well. At the same time, the willingness to vaccinate in Sweden is decreasing, with now almost every fifth Swede saying a resounding no to vaccines.

This week’s news in brief:

And finally:

People are tired of the coronavirus in Uppsala, which is why they held a demonstration that was documented by Swedish radio and this week made the rounds online:

That’s all for this week, feel free to send in your tips if you feel something’s missing!

This article is free of charge thanks to the help of people who contribute financially every month to make this journalism open and accessible.

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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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