Why did Sweden’s confirmed coronavirus cases double overnight?

Why did Sweden's confirmed coronavirus cases double overnight?
The Swedish government held a press conference to inform about the coronavirus earlier this week. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
The number of coronavirus cases in Sweden grew to 30 late on Tuesday, including ten new patients in Stockholm, before rising again to 35 on Wednesday morning. That's the biggest increase over a 24-hour period the country has seen so far, but health authorities are not surprised.

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First of all, while a doubling of cases sounds shocking, it is worth noting that Sweden's Public Health Agency has been saying for days that the risk of discovering more infections is “very high”.

That is limited to travellers coming from abroad, and the risk of an outbreak in Sweden is only “moderate”.

This is also a time of the year when a lot of Swedes are travelling home from the February school break – including from places such as northern Italy, which has seen a large outbreak of the coronavirus.

There have been no reports of any of the patients in Sweden suffering serious symptoms of the illness, which can cause a cough, fever, respiratory symptoms and in serious cases pneumonia.

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More than 90,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus – or COVID-19 as it has also been dubbed – worldwide, with around 3,000 deaths, after it broke out in Wuhan, China, in December.

But the vast majority recover, and according to the World Health Organisation around 80 percent experience only mild symptoms. Risk groups include the elderly and people with other illnesses.

In Sweden the number of cases doubled from 15 to 30 on Tuesday, including the first case in Skåne, a new case in Jönköping, ten new in the Stockholm area and three new in the Gothenburg area. Two further cases were then confirmed in the Gothenburg area on Wednesday morning and another in Skåne, followed by two more in Värmland, bringing the total to 35.

Of the ten new cases in Stockholm, six were confirmed late in the evening. Of those, five had either contracted it in northern Italy or from being in close contact with someone who had been to Italy. One of the people had recently arrived from Iran, a country that has a large diaspora in Sweden.

But the cases did not come as a surprise to health authorities.

“We had almost expected an increase. We knew that there was a large number of flights from northern Italy over the weekend. These (patients) have an international connection, they have been travelling in areas where there is an ongoing outbreak,” Stockholm's infectious disease doctor Per Follin told news agency TT.

Stockholm's administrative health region now has 15 coronavirus patients, almost half of Sweden's total. Twelve of them are currently being treated at the Karolinska University Hospital's infectious disease clinic in Huddinge. There are however no reports that any of them are seriously ill.

The fast increase in cases does not automatically mean that the risk of an outbreak in Sweden has grown, according to health authorities. So far, all of the cases can either be linked to international travel or they were discovered through active tracking of people who might have been in contact with patients.

There have been no infections reported so far in Sweden at the next infection stage – that is where, say, Patient 1 contracts the virus abroad, then infects Patient 2 at home in Sweden, who then infects Patient 3.

Sweden's first coronavirus patient – a woman in her 30s who contracted the virus on a visit to Wuhan in late January – has left hospital and is fully recovered, health officials told The Local on Tuesday.

Sweden's official advice is still that as long as you are healthy, it is best to keep living your life as normal, taking the precautions you would during normal flu season, such as washing your hands regularly. If you do develop symptoms, especially after travelling to a high-risk area, call the national healthline 1177.

If you have questions about the coronavirus, you can call Sweden's information number 113 13.

Sweden's emergency number is 112, but should obviously only be used for emergencies.

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Editor, The Local Sweden

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