The risk of the virus spreading in Sweden has been upgraded from “very low” to “low”, the second lowest on a five-point scale. The risk for individuals testing positive in Sweden after catching the coronavirus abroad has been upgraded to “high”, the second highest level on the same scale.
The agency based its new risk assessment on an analysis of the spread of the virus worldwide, primarily based on information from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
“The indications suggest that there is now dissemination of the disease in society, to a limited extent, in above all South Korea, Iran and northern Italy. At the same time WHO reports that the rise in new cases has slowed in China,” the Public Health Agency wrote in a statement on February 25th, which upgraded the earlier assessments made on February 10th.
So far there has only been one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Sweden, and this person is not thought to have infected anyone else after a self-imposed quarantine.
“In Sweden and in Europe, there is extensive testing going on in order to be able to find suspected cases and prevent spread of infection early on. So far, the Public Health Agency has carried out around 200 tests, of which all have come back negative except one. A further eight laboratories in Sweden now have the capacity to carry out analyses for the new coronavirus,” the agency wrote.
“We are still making the assessment that the risk is low,” noted Public Health Agency epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. “The most important thing we can do in Sweden at the moment is to find any cases as early as possible.”
“If you have respiratory symptoms and have been in [the affected] countries or regions you should be quite cautious and contact healthcare authorities as soon as possible. But you shouldn't go to the emergency room; ring instead.”
According to Tegnell, one of the difficulties with assessing the risk of the spread of the virus is that it appears to have a varying rate of infection.
“We have had a couple of hundred cases outside China that haven't infected anyone at all. But then we have had a handful of cases that have infected a large number of people. It seems as if certain people in certain circumstances can become so-called super spreaders.”
Two factors behind the upgraded risk assessment are the fact that many people are travelling between Sweden and Italy, particularly during the traditional February winter sports break from school, and that many cases involve only mild symptoms which may mean the virus is not detected.
The new coronavirus is a respiratory illness and initially similar to a common cold. Since its outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, there have been more than 77,000 confirmed cases of the virus, resulting in over 2,500 deaths.
Within Europe, several countries have experienced a handful of cases, but Italy has the third highest number of confirmed cases worldwide at over 200.