Sweden’s armed forces carry out ‘successful’ test to prepare for coronavirus outbreak

In Sweden, the risk of coronavirus spreading is judged by authorities to be low. But at the end of January, the Swedish Armed Forces carried out an exercise moving a mobile lab across the country in order to test its capabilities.

Sweden's armed forces carry out 'successful' test to prepare for coronavirus outbreak
A lab scientist tests potentially infected patient samples in France. File photo: AP Photo/Francois Mori
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At the end of January, the Swedish Armed Forces moved a mobile laboratory and staff from Umeå in the north of Sweden to Uppsala University Hospital in order to develop analysis methods for identifying the coronavirus.

“When we saw the progress of the virus, we identified a chance to test our capabilities in terms of laboratories, and to make our staff and resources available to the National CBRN Defence Centre,” said Philip Bacchus, head of the centre in Umeå.

“Everything went very fast. Normally, all our exercises are carefully planned out but this was an exercise that was put together very fast, a kind of stress test of the operation,” he said. 

The National CBRN Defence Centre has military and civilian expertise to deal with threats of chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear (CBRN) nature.

Infection protection analyses and virus control are not among its primary tasks, but the exercise was judged to be a success.

“We were able to act at very short notice and move this mobile lab. In addition, with our equipment and staff, we were able to identify coronavirus in human samples. This resource is useful both nationally and internationally,” said Bacchus.

He said he could not speculate on whether the army's services would be in demand in the event of an outbreak in Sweden, but said “we have shown that we have the capability”.

“Should we need to handle many samples, for example in the case of larger outbreaks, we now know that this option works. The healthcare sector has a much better preparedness to deal with an outbreak of a highly contagious disease after this exercise,” said Erik Salaneck, a professor and doctor specializing in infectious diseases at the hospital. 

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