“The curves look to be slowly but surely pointing downwards, but there is still a lot of strain on all parts of the healthcare sector,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at Monday's press conference, where the total death toll since the start of the outbreak was reported as 3,698.
As of May 18th, there were 371 people in Sweden's intensive care units with the coronavirus, a number that has fallen from more than 500 in early May. This figure is seen as a key indicator of the level of spread, since people who require intensive care with the coronavirus typically remain in hospital for a long time.
Meanwhile, testing rates remain low in Sweden. As neighbouring Denmark this week plans to offer all adults a chance to book a test, Sweden tested 29,000 people last week, a long way short of the stated goal of between 50,000 and 100,000. Tegnell said that one of the obstacles to increasing test numbers was “a logistical problem of connecting the non-medical laboratories to the medical system”.
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Photo: Adam Ihse/TT
Asked by The Local if tests would soon be extended to people in roles with a lot of social contact such as teachers, the state epidemiologist explained: “Teachers would come far down, we see that very few teachers get sick so that would not be a priority. The next group to be tested is people with the most important societal functions, that's emergency services, electrical supply services, transport and stuff like that.”
He said that the environments considered to pose the highest risk of infection spread included restaurants, workplaces, and within the home.
Sweden's focus on voluntary measures has received criticism both at home and abroad as the country has reported higher death rates per capita than its Nordic neighbours which imposed lockdowns.
As other countries across Europe start to relax their stricter measures, Tegnell said that communication had been a key factor in ensuring people followed the guidelines in Sweden even without enforcement, something which surveys and mobile data both suggest has happened, although the same data suggests people in Sweden may be starting to prematurely relax.
“It's a lot of explaining why things should be done and what's the goal, not to talk so much about how to do things but getting people to understand why you do things so they themselves can see how to do it,” he told The Local.
Tegnell said that the agency has adapted its communications over the course of the outbreak, “constantly changing” in response to new challenges.
“When we see that restaurants are very crowded, we go in with regulations and when that doesn't help, we have gone in with inspections and closed them down, so it's constant adaptation,” he said.
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The next recommendations that are being put together will relate to summer, including advice around domestic travel, and possible new regulations for beaches and bathing areas.
“Now we are telling people to avoid any kind of unnecessary travel, but we will have to look at that and see if we can be a bit more lenient in that area, but that depends on how the epidemic evolves,” Tegnell told The Local. “We haven't finalised what we'll do but we'll come back to it in a few weeks' time.”
The Public Health Agency said on Monday that they advised summer camps for children born in 2002 or later could go ahead, but should be held in small groups, only in the local area, and in line with the existing recommendations. That means children with symptoms should not attend, and that activities should be outdoors as much as possible and adhere to social distancing.
The agency has also said there may be revised recommendations for fit and healthy over-70s at the start of next week. At the moment, anyone in this group is advised to stay at home and avoid social contacts, but to go out for fresh air and exercise when possible.
Asked by The Local how at-risk people living in apartment blocks in densely populated areas should manage this, Tegnell said: “As long as you can be outside without being socially very close to someone, that's OK. If you look at the streets in Stockholm they're not so busy so I'm sure most people could find a place to walk around without being close to somebody for long. It's not just being close to somebody for like five or ten seconds [that poses a risk of infection], it's more having a social interaction with somebody.”
“All the evidence we have says you need to be close to somebody for a bit more extended time [to risk being infected]. If you think about concerts or football, where people stay in close contact for a long time like that, can be a risk, but just walking around if you happen to be close to somebody for a few seconds I don't think that's a risk,” he continued.