Stockholm hospitals brace for ‘increasing coronavirus storm’

The demand for health care in Stockholm is growing rapidly, health director in the Stockholm region Björn Eriksson said on Monday as the coronavirus outbreak continues to pile pressure on hospitals. But he said that thus far, the capital has been well prepared.

Stockholm hospitals brace for 'increasing coronavirus storm'
Healthcare workers in protective clothes at an infectious diseases clinic in Kalmar. File photo: Mikael Fritzon / TT

“We can see right now that the storm is here and it is increasing in strength. The trend is very clear and it is that the need for care is increasing rapidly day by day,” the healthcare director told reporters. 

The pressure on intensive care units in Stockholm's hospitals is increasing drastically but authorities say the system has so far managed to cope. 

“Thus far the health care system has been one step ahead of the virus”, Eriksson told Swedish radio.

Over the last couple of days, Stockholm’s health care system has been completely transformed to manage the rise in patients in need of medical assistance. 

Hospitals have doubled their intensive care capacity within ten days, Eriksson told a press conference Monday morning. The next step is to triple capacity.

“We do not see any slowdown in the rate of increase; quite the contrary,” Eriksson said. But he added: “Right now, we have available capacity at the hospitals, because we have been able to expand capacity so much. It's about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”

A field hospital has been installed just outside Stockholm, to add 140 beds to the 450 already made available for those being treated for Covid-19. Only patients being treated for the new virus will receive care at the field hospital, and none have been treated there so far.

If needed, it will be possible to expand the field hospital to hold 600 beds, and this is expected to be complete before Easter.

A key task at the field hospital was preparing to offer oxygen treatment, which is used in the care of most patients who are hospitalised with Covid-19. Getting such a large oxygen tank in place usually takes three to four months, but in the new field hospital this was done in three days.

According to the latest figures, the Stockholm region has had 1,657 confirmed cases and 68 fatalities as of the afternoon of March 29th.

Countrywide approximately 3,700 people have tested positive for corona, with 110 fatalities. And at least 280 people have received care at an intensive care unit.

However the real number of coronavirus cases in the country is likely far higher.

The Stockholm region has been hit hardest. “It’s for real now, the virus is here and it is spreading quickly” an unnamed doctor in the capital told Dagens Nyheter last week. 

“What the citizens of Stockholm can help with is to limit their social contact.”

Everyone in Sweden has been asked to avoid non-essential domestic travel, particularly over the usually busy Easter period, in order to limit the spread of the virus. This is considered to be particularly important for people from Stockholm, the current epicentre of Sweden's outbreak, who typically travel to regions which have warned they do not have the healthcare capacity to care for the sudden rise in cases this could bring.

“We’ve got it under control, but it’s extremely tough”, nurse Anna Helmerson at Karolinska University Hospital told TT news. The staff at the intensive care unit is now working 12.5 hour shifts, caring for three times the usual number of patients.

Thousands of people have applied to help out in the Stockholm region's healthcare system. Around 6,500 people including doctors, nurses and students have applied, which the region's healthcare director described as a “fantastic response”.

The region has now paused its recruitment of extra help, but the healthcare director said they expected to need further help soon. The website to bookmark if you're interested is here.

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New Covid-19 wave in Sweden ‘to peak at end of September’

Sweden's Public Health Agency has warned of a new autumn wave of Covid-19 which it expects to peak at the end of September.

New Covid-19 wave in Sweden 'to peak at end of September'

According to both of the two new scenarios published by the agency on Monday, infection rates are set to rise steadily over the next month, something the agency said was due to a falling immunity in the population and greater contact between people as they return to schools and workplaces after the summer. 

“It is difficult to say how high the peak will be, but it is unlikely that it will reach the same levels as in January and February,” the agency’s unit chief Sara Byfors said in a press release. “The most important thing is that people in risk groups and those who are 65 years old and above get vaccinated with a booster dose in the autumn to reduce the risk of serious illness and death.” 

Under Scenario 0, the amount of contact between people stays at current levels, leading to a peak in reported Covid-19 cases at around 5,000 a day. In Scenario 1, contact between people increases by about 10 percent from the middle of August, leading to a higher peak of about 7,000 reported cases a day. 

The agency said that employers should be prepared for many staff to be off sick simultaneously at points over the next month, but said in its release that it did not judge the situation to be sufficiently serious to require either it or the government to impose additional infection control measures. 

It was important, however, it said, that those managing health and elderly care continued to test those with symptoms and to track the chain of infections, that people go and get the booster doses when they are supposed to have under the vaccination programme, and that those who have symptoms of Covid-19 stay home.