Has the coronavirus peaked in Stockholm?

Has the coronavirus peaked in Stockholm?
People following social distancing recommendations in Stockholm on April 21st. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
The spread of the coronavirus may have peaked in the Swedish capital, and by May 1st one third of all Stockholmers may have been infected by the virus, health officials believe.

Editor's note: The Public Health Agency on Wednesday withdrew the report mentioned below, writing on Twitter: “We have discovered an error in the report and the report authors are currently going through the material again. We will republish the report as soon as it is ready”. They said they would share more information about the nature of the error once this was done. 

The report said that there were around 1,000 times as many people infected by the coronavirus in Sweden as the number of confirmed cases, a figure that was questioned by Swedish journalist Emanuel Karlsten at the press conference as it did not match up with the rest of the report's figures. There are currently over 15,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Sweden, and 1,000 times this figure would amount to more than the country's entire population.

The Public Health Agency concluded in a report using statistical models that 86,000 of roughly two million residents in the wider Stockholm area had the virus on April 15th.

According to the official tally, Sweden has recorded 15,322 cases nationwide since the outbreak began including 6,200 infections in the Stockholm area.

The researchers used modelling based on reported cases and a study of randomly selected Stockholm residents.

“According to this model the peak was reached then and after that we can expect fewer cases per day, but that doesn't mean the infection stops,” Anders Wallensten, deputy state epidemiologist, told a press conference.

By May 1st, the model suggests that a third of all Stockholmers will have had the virus.

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The report, which can be read in full in Swedish here, said that the calculations estimated that around 400,000 people were or had been infected in Stockholm by April 11th. At that time there were 4,000 confirmed cases.

Wallensten said the models would become more accurate as more data became available.

He added that this did not mean people should take a more relaxed attitude to the country's guidance – such as social distancing and good hand hygiene – on reducing the spread of infection.

Sweden has not imposed the extraordinary lockdown measures seen across Europe, instead urging people to take responsibility and follow official recommendations.

Gatherings of more than 50 people have been barred along with visits to nursing homes, and universities and upper secondary schools have introduced distance teaching.

The strategy has come under scrutiny since mortality rates leapt ahead of its Nordic neighbours, Finland, Denmark and Norway, which have all instituted more restrictive containment measures.

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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