New restrictions in Sweden for households with coronavirus infections

People in Sweden who live in the same household as someone infected with Covid-19 now have to isolate at home, the Swedish Public Health Agency announced at a press conference on Thursday.

New restrictions in Sweden for households with coronavirus infections
Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, during Thursday's press conference on the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Amir Nabizadeh/TT

“We think it is reasonable that people who live with someone who has Covid-19 stay at home to reduce the risk of spreading it further”, says state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.

“You should stay at home for seven days but be tested after five days,” Tegnell adds.

Anyone affected by the rules will be contacted by an infection tracker and get more information about what applies.  Decisions about rules of conduct are made by doctors, and the rules may mean that you are not allowed to go to work.

“This is not something you take the initiative for yourself. You will be contacted by the health service to get these rules of conduct formally. It is only then that they apply”, says Tegnell.

The Swedish Public Health Agency has recommended that certain members of the household are exempt from the new rules.

According to the Swedish Public Health Agency these include pupils in pre-school, elementary and upper secondary-level special schools, as well as people who have previously had a positive Covid-19 test or detected antibodies within the last six months.

In certain professions, for example health and care work, the rules can be eased more quickly by direct testing, if it could cause a heavy loss of staff at a place of work.

“We have always thought that it is very important for children to go to school”, Tegnell told news wire TT when asked why children and young people don’t have to stay at home in the event of a confirmed infection in the household.

“The second part is that we now have a pretty good basis for saying that children are not a driving force in this spread of infection. They sometimes become contagious but rarely become seriously ill and very rarely infect other people,” Tegnell added.

A Covid-19 self-test kit in Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

Tegnell told TT that implementing the recommendations earlier in the Spring was not reasonable, due in part to the risk of large absences of staff in elderly and medical care.

In July, the Public Health Agency announced new guidelines for people who had come into close contact with someone infected with Covid-19.  But the agency's advice page for people whose family members were sick, was only updated on September 1st. 

Up until that date, it had stated that symptom-free family members should “do as normal and go to preschool, school or work, but at the same time be especially attentive to other symptoms.”

READ MORE:  What's going on with Sweden's changing advice for close contacts of coronavirus cases?

In recent days, the number of hospital patients with Covid-19 in intensive care has increased. In just under three weeks, the number has doubled, from 12 to 24 patients.

The number of Covid-19 patients in ICU care had previously been falling since April, when the peak number of 558 patients was recorded on 25th and 26th April. That had fallen to only 12 patients on 11th September.

Tegnell told TT that the numbers were still low but the increase was notable.

“People are cared for so differently in intensive care. Some are there for a long time, while others are only a short time, so I would not call it a trend break, although it is definitely an important signal to keep an eye on,” he said.

According to the Swedish Public Health Agency's latest statistics on Thursday, no new deaths of people with confirmed Covid-19 have been reported in Sweden. A total of 5,893 infected people have died in the country. A total of 93,615 people have been confirmed infected in Sweden.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.