Sweden's Public Health Agency's latest statistics, published on Sunday, show that a total of 2,679 people have died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus in Sweden. That's almost three times more than its Nordic neighbours together, and the figure is expected to increase after the weekend data comes in.
Authorities did not hold press conferences over the weekend, but deputy state epidemiologist Anders Wallensten told news agency TT on Sunday that the key reason behind Sweden's high death toll compared to its neighbouring countries is the extent to which the infection spread to care homes for the elderly in Sweden.
In Stockholm, the epicentre of the outbreak in Sweden, 630 out of 1,406 people who have passed away with the coronavirus were tested in an elderly care home, according to data released on Thursday last week.
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A new report by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper shows that at least 541 care homes across Sweden have had at least one case of the coronavirus.
“It is highly unfortunate that there has been such an extensive spread of the infection [in elderly care homes]. We are investigating what failed, what can be done better and in what way more support is needed, in order to rectify this,” Wallensten told TT.
TT: What is the situation regarding the spread of infection in Sweden's elderly care homes right now?
“I have no daily figure. But it has been very large and it has not changed overnight. Unfortunately it is the case that once the infection is there, it is difficult to manage in a nursing home. Great efforts are needed to ensure that more people do not get infected,” said Wallensten.
TT: Whose reponsibility is it that the infection has entered nursing homes?
“It is probably a shared responsibility between everyone involved in elderly care. After all, there are many bodies that manage elderly care and it is important that routines work, but I cannot comment on whose responsibility it is specifically.”
TT: Does the Public Health Agency not hold any responsibility for not having provided sufficiently clear guidelines earlier?
“It is not the Public Health Agency that manages elderly care. Bascially, we are talking about things that should be working all the time, even when there is no pandemic, such as basic hygiene routines.”
TT: Who should have drawn attention to shortcomings in basic hygiene practices?
“It is the operator who should have that competence. But, as I said, I think it is too early to say exactly what has failed in this situation. We are going through it now and will report more during the course of the week.”
Sweden has barred visits from all care homes, banned events of more than 50 people, moved teaching at upper secondary schools and universities online, and introduced social distancing rules for bars and restaurants. But its coronavirus strategy has also relied heavily on voluntary measures, strongly urging its residents to respect health recommendations rather than enforcing a lockdown as seen in other countries.
The strategy has come under fire in recent weeks, with those advocating stronger measures pointing at the high death toll, and those supporting it arguing that voluntary measures put the country in a better position to keep them up and protect people in the long term, rather than risking a second wave of new cases.