Sweden’s coronavirus death rates ‘higher than previously thought’

Swedish news agency TT has claimed revised figures show that deaths related to the coronavirus in Sweden are in fact higher than reported.

Sweden's coronavirus death rates 'higher than previously thought'
Illustration photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

When the Public Health Agency presents the latest reported deaths in the coronavirus pandemic each day, they emphasise that there is a backlog of reporting.

TT’s review into the updated figures from the Public Health Authority show that the daily death rate has in fact been significantly higher than initial reports, due to this backlog.

The official number of deaths in Sweden related to the coronavirus was 373 at the time of writing.

The revised death figures, which have been published since TT's review, show that on March 25, 42 deaths were reported but that updated figure is 97.

On March 26, a total of 66 deaths were reported. That updated figure is now almost double, at 124 according to TT. The days after that look about the same, according to the news agency.

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is at the forefront of Sweden's fight against the coronavirus, does not believe the total revised figures will be too much higher. 

“I do not think so. Now we work on it more systematically. So the backlog also becomes smaller”, he told TT.

Tegnell acknowledged that there has been a backlog in the figures and stated that it is a technical issue and not about the authorities wanting to hide something.

He added that it can be difficult to compare death rates across countries. This may be because there are different way of calculating the numbers.

In an interview with Swedish Radio, Tegnell further explained that the earlier backlog is not expected to be as great in the future. 

Asked if the death total could be actually closer to 500, he said that would be “very hard to believe.”

Sweden has got broad media attention for its approach to the coronavirus outbreak. But it has rejected the idea that life is carrying on uninterrupted as the country passes 6,000 confirmed cases.

However on Saturday a bill was submitted for the government to be able to make quick decisions on how to tackle the coronavirus, without first obtaining parliament’s approval.

If approved, it would allow the government temporary power to act quickly on measures such as closing down shopping centres, imposing restrictions on transport, or restricting public groups.

Sweden has so far not ordered a lockdown, instead issuing recommendations and calling on citizens to “each take responsibility” and follow the guidelines.

On Wednesday, new binding guidelines asked everyone in the country to reduce social contact and keep at a distance from others at all time.

NOTE: This article has been updated and corrected. TT previously speculated that the coronavirus death rates in Sweden could be twice as high as current figures reported but it has since retracted this as unfounded. It is unclear what the revised total number of deaths related to the coronavirus will be.

What should you be doing to help reduce the rate of infection?

In Sweden, the official advice requires everyone to:

  • Stay at home if you have any cold- or flu-like symptoms, even if they are mild and you would normally continue life as normal. Stay at home until you have been fully symptom-free for at least two days.
  • Practise good hygiene, by regularly and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, using hand sanitiser when that’s not possible, and covering any coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
  • Keep distance from all other people when in public places. That includes shops, parks, museums, and on the street, for example. The World Health Organisation recommends keeping at least a 1.5-2 metre distance.
  • Avoid large gatherings, including parties, weddings, and other activities.
  • Work from home if you can. Employers have been asked to ensure this happens where possible.
  • Avoid all non-essential travel, both within and outside Sweden. That includes visits to family, planned holidays, and any other trips that can be avoided.
  • If you have to travel, avoid busy times such as rush hour if you can. This reduces the number of people on public transport and makes it easier for people to keep their distance.
  • If you are over 70 or belong to a high-risk group, you should stay at home and reduce all social contacts. Avoid going to the shops (get groceries delivered or try to find someone who can help you), but you can go outside if you keep distance from other people. Read more about the help available to those in risk groups here.
  • By following these precautions, we can all help to protect those who are most at risk and to reduce the rate of infection, which in turn reduces the burden on Sweden's healthcare sector.
  • Read more detail about the precautions we should all be taking in this paywall-free article. Advice in English is also available from Sweden's Public Health Agency and the World Health Organisation.


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Sweden records world’s first case of bird flu in a porpoise

A porpoise found stranded on a Swedish beach in June died of bird flu, the first time the virus has been detected in one of the marine mammals, Sweden's National Veterinary Institute said on Wednesday.

Sweden records world's first case of bird flu in a porpoise

“As far as we know this is the first confirmed case in the world of bird flu in a porpoise,” veterinarian Elina Thorsson said in a statement. “It is likely that the porpoise somehow came into contact with infected birds,” she said.

The young male was found stranded, alive, on a beach in western Sweden in late June. Despite efforts from the public to get it to swim out to deeper
waters, it was suffering from exhaustion and died the same evening.

The bird flu virus, H5N1, was found in several of its organs. “Contrary to seals, where illnesses caused by a flu virus have been detected multiple times, there have been only a handful of reports of flu virus in cetaceans”, Thorsson said.

The virus has also previously been detected in other mammals, including red foxes, otters, lynx and skunks, the institute said.

Europe and North America are currently seeing a vast outbreak of bird flu among wild birds.