Sweden opens doors to local coronavirus guidelines as cases pass 100,000

Sweden is set to tighten its coronavirus recommendations next week, making it possible for regional authorities to introduce additional local guidelines if needed.

Sweden opens doors to local coronavirus guidelines as cases pass 100,000
A sign urging people to keep their distance. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

A total of 100,654 people have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the outbreak, Swedish health authorities said at their bi-weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Sweden was long spared a large second wave in late summer as seen in countries such as France and Spain, but cases have now steadily been on the increase in the Scandinavian country for several weeks.

Most of the new cases are people aged around 20-50, and a corresponding rise in new deaths or intensive care admissions has not yet been seen. A total of 5,899 people have to date died after testing positive.

“But there are concerning signs that it is again starting to affect elderly care homes,” said state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, adding that the number of cases in elderly care homes doubled between the week starting September 28th and the following week, albeit for now still at a very low level compared to spring.

As The Local has previously reported, the coronavirus swept through many of Sweden's care homes at the early stages of the pandemic. A large number of the country's almost 6,000 fatalities took place in elderly care homes in spring. Since then, Covid-19 deaths in care homes have dropped significantly, partly thanks to a nationwide ban on visits but also a number of other factors, such as proactive management in care homes.

But months later, concerns were raised that the ban was causing more health problems than it was resolving. Swedish health authorities were worried that it was leading to increased isolation and loneliness among people, many of whom are old and vulnerable, who had not been able to receive visits from friends and family as normal.

Sweden allowed elderly care homes to open to visitors from October 1st.

“There is nothing that indicates that there is a connection to elderly care homes opening up, because this increase started before that. But it is important now that care homes pay attention, that they test generously and make it possible for staff to stay at home and also test staff very generously,” said Tegnell.

A screenshot showing coronavirus cases in elderly care homes nationwide (purple) and in Stockholm (green). Photo: Public Health Agency

A total of 23 coronavirus patients are currently being treated in intensive care in Sweden.

Stockholm is the region that is the worst hit by the rise in new cases right now, but Jämtland, Härjedalen, Uppsala and Örebro were also highlighted on Tuesday as regions seeing an increase. You can track your region here.

Updated coronavirus recommendations will come into effect on October 19th, to curb cluster outbreaks in specific regions. These will enable regional authorities to introduce their own local guidelines in their area.

According to slides shown by the National Board of Health and Welfare at Tuesday's press conference, these could for example include local recommendations urging people to:

  • avoid public transport
  • avoid unnecessary travel
  • avoid visiting people in a risk group, for example elderly care homes
  • avoid going to shopping centres, gyms, swimming pools or other busy indoor venues
  • avoid physical contact with people not belonging to your household, if possible

These are just examples, and it is important to note that they will not automatically come into force on October 19th – it is up to the regional infectious disease doctor and the Public Health Agency to decide if and when to introduce one or more of them if they believe it would be necessary in a particular area.

Currently, Sweden's national recommendations urge everyone in the country to work from home if they can, stay at home if they have symptoms, wash their hands carefully, avoid large social gatherings and keep a distance, and use other means of travel than public transport if possible.

Stricter advice applies to people in risk groups or aged over 70, who are still advised to avoid shops, restaurants, and public transport, and to get help in having food or medicines delivered.

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