Sweden’s Covid infection rates soar above Spain and UK as hospitalisations double every week after shunning lockdown
20th November 2020

SWEDEN’S coronavirus infection rate has skyrocketed ahead of the UK as its second spike continues to rise.

The number of people hospitalised with the virus is almost doubling each week, after the country shunned the lockdown restrictions imposed by its neighbours and opted for a 'herd immunity' approach to the pandemic.

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The per capita infection rate among Sweden’s 10.2 million people has risen above those in Britain and Spain, with its death toll also mounting.

Spain has recorded a total of 1.54 million cases of coronavirus and 42,291 deaths.

The UK has confirmed 1.45 million cases of COVID-19 and 53,775 deaths.

On Thursday, the number of coronavirus cases in Sweden soared above 200,000, and 6,340 have died after being infected with the virus. 

While the UK and Spain's figures appear to be much more grim, it is the speed of Sweden's new infections that is causing the greatest concern.

The number of COVID-infected Swedes in intensive care beds are also doubling every week.

It is a faster rate than both Austria and Slovakia, where hospital admissions are doubling every nine days, and Italy, where they are doubling every ten days.

Goran Hansson, a cardiology professor at the Karolinska Institute and the head of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, said the situation in Sweden is “serious”.

Professor Hansson said: “The number of cases increases at an accelerating speed and mortality is, unfortunately, also increasing.”

“Intensive care units are not yet at maximum capacity but these wards may become full soon if the current trend is not broken.”

Despite evidence that coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the country and putting more people into intensive care, Sweden’s health authorities reiterated their skepticism toward face masks on Thursday.

Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of the Public Health Agency in Stockholm, told reporters: “We don’t see that we are at a point where we might recommend general use of face masks on public transport.” 

“Face masks shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to keep a distance.”

The policy drew sharp criticism from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which published a statement earlier in the day in defence of masks.

Since the start of the pandemic, Sweden’s soft-touch 'herd immunity' response has garnered world-wide attention.

Sweden, which has a much higher COVID-19 death rate than other Nordic countries, avoided enforcing a lockdown or establish a national contact-tracing system for months.

Sweden did not recommend the use of facemasks, even in hospitals.

Residents continued to visit their relatives in care homes until the start of April, and until the end of May no more than 30,000 coronavirus tests were carried out per week.

The country instead relied on voluntary measures in an effort to get Swedes to stay far enough apart to avoid infecting each other.

But hopes of herd immunity have been dashed, as it's estimated only 500,000 Swedes, around one in 20 of the population, have contracted the virus so far.

The latest infection rates show the country's strategy is failing, and Prime Minister Stefan Lofvenhas urged residents to do more, or face a “really dark” winter.

On Wednesday, Sweden was forced to announce that alcohol sales will be banned after 10pm across the country in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

The alcohol ban in bars, restaurants and pubs will take effect on November 20 and last until at least February, PM Stefan Lofven said.

“All the indicators are pointing in the wrong direction,” Lofven said at a press conference announcing the move, saying Sweden could soon be back in the same situation it was in during the spring. 

Stockholm, which has been at the centre of both waves of infection, reintroduced a ban on visiting elderly people in care homes after the virus began spreading there.

All but one of Sweden’s districts are now in voluntary lockdown, with residents advised to reduce their social contacts by avoiding public transport or travelling out of their region.

After imposing only minimal restrictions in the spring, Sweden has now limited restaurant tables to eight people and urged people in many areas to work at home. 

The recommendations to avoid crowded places and avoid public transport now apply to more than half of Swedes.    

Last week, PM Lofven went into self-isolation after a close contact came down with the virus, but his office announced on Sunday that he had tested negative.  

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