What’s the latest news on Sweden’s R number?

What's the latest news on Sweden's R number?
Ribersborg beach in Malmö in mid-August. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
One of the key indicators of how the coronavirus is spreading in a country rose in Sweden in early August, but health authorities say it is again falling.

One of the key measures that help show how the coronavirus is spreading in a country is the so-called basic reproduction number – R number or R0 – which ideally you want to keep under 1.

An R0 of 1 means that each person infected with the virus is passing it on to one other person, and if it's below this it is a sign that the infection is slowing down. But it is not an exact indicator of how the virus is forecast to develop; it is possible for the R0 to fall only to climb back up again, as has happened in many countries.

Sweden's R number peaked in March, when it was close to 1.7, reports the TT news agency.

Since around mid-June, however, the number has been falling in line with a decreasing number of new cases, and it has mostly remained relatively steadily below 1 since then. In mid-July R0 was down to around 0.5.

But then the rate of infection increased again, as The Local has previously reported.

Just over a week into August, the R number had climbed to over 1.2.

“The increase we saw in early August has mainly affected people aged 20-40 who are not quite following the recommendations in place,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told TT.

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Asked if it should be a case for concern, Tegnell said: “Of course we want to get down to as low levels as possible. But it is not exactly concerning, especially because it has not affected healthcare or elderly care to a large extent. The most important thing is that the number has not continued upwards.”

Since the increase in early August, Sweden's R0 has again fallen, and according to Tegnell it is again below 1. But he added that there are still significant regional differences across the country.

Stockholm, which was one of the hardest-hit regions in Sweden during the peak of the outbreak in April, is for example still seeing relatively low levels of new infections. But in southern Swedish region Skåne and popular tourism island Gotland, the number of new cases has been on the increase in the past few weeks.

Skåne health authorities said last week that new coronavirus cases are increasing in all age groups, but mainly among people 20-49 and still with relatively few elderly people falling ill. Most people were infected in Sweden, but officials noted that several had caught the infection abroad, with many having visited countries in south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. The coronavirus is currently spreading in countries around the world.

Regional newspaper Sydsvenskan reported that much of Skåne's increase of coronavirus cases in hospital could be found in Malmö, with fewer new cases admitted to hospital in for example Lund, Kristianstad and Helsingborg.

A total of 56,487 tests for ongoing coronavirus infection were carried out in Sweden in the week starting August 10th, a couple of thousand more than the previous week. There have been 86,068 cases of the virus in Sweden since the start of the outbreak, according to the most up-to-date figures from last week, and 5,810 have died.

Everyone in Sweden is urged to stay at home if they are at all sick (even a mild cough or sore throat), practise social distancing, work from home if possible, follow good hygiene practices, and avoid non-essential visits to elderly people or hospitals. Contact 1177.se to find out what testing options are available in your region.


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