‘Hold on, hold out and keep your distance,’ health officials tell southern Swedes

'Hold on, hold out and keep your distance,' health officials tell southern Swedes
People relaxing in the sun in Malmö on April 23rd. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
"Hold on, hold out and keep your distance. This is not over yet," Alf Jönsson, regional director of the Skåne region in southern Sweden, told a press conference on Thursday.

While Sweden as a whole has been hit harder by the coronavirus than its Nordic neighbours, Skåne and its 1.4 million residents have so far escaped the worst, with 41.7 confirmed infections per 100,000 people compared to Stockholm's 269.3 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Public Health Agency.

Fifty-seven people had passed away in Skåne by April 22nd, compared to 1,070 in Stockholm.

Health authorities have previously said that Skåne is around three to five weeks behind Stockholm in the infection curve, but the virus still appears to be spreading at a slower rate in southern Sweden.

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Some of the possible explanations, cited by among others newspaper Sydsvenskan, are that Skåne had its February break earlier than Stockholm (which had its break at a time when the outbreak started becoming widespread in Italy, where most of Sweden's first wave caught the virus), that hospitals and care homes were quicker to ban visitors, that dental clinics closed to risk groups sooner, that the nearby Copenhagen Airport reduced international traffic before Stockholm's Arlanda Airport, and that public transport in general is less crowded in the southern region.

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But regional health authorities are still worried that the infection will start spreading more rapidly if people stop following the Public Health Agency's recommendations about social distancing as the weather improves.

“Help us do our job by sticking with this,” said Jönsson.

He also urged people not to avoid contacting their doctor because of the coronavirus situation.

While many hospitals and clinics have cut down on non-essential care, people are still urged to seek healthcare if they need help. The region has noticed that non-coronavirus patients are staying away from hospitals more than before the outbreak.

“We are seeing that heart attacks have decreased a lot,” said Pia Lundbom, healthcare director in Skåne.

Between March to mid-April this year, 90 people contacted healthcare over acute heart attacks. In the same period last year, the figure was 275 visits.

In total the region registered 94,000 visits to emergency departments in the same period last year – the corresponding figure this year is 35,000, according to a Region Skåne press release.


Skåne health officials at a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

One reason for the decrease could be that people actually get less ill because of changing behaviour due to the coronavirus situation. But another reason, which has sparked concern among health officials, could be that people are choosing not to contact healthcare with non-coronavirus related queries.

If you are in need of emergency help, you should always call Sweden's emergency number 112.

If you have a health-related concern of a less urgent nature, you should contact Sweden's national health hotline 1177, who will advise you on the next steps.

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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