There are currently 372 Covid-19 patients in Sweden's intensive care units, with around 20 percent available capacity nationwide, the National Board of Health and Welfare's head of crisis preparedness Johanna Sandwall said at Tuesday's press conference from Swedish authorities.
Sandwall said: “Outside intensive care, in other hospital departments, 2,460 Covid-19 patients are being cared for. So overall there are still more patients in the healthcare system than at any point during spring, so we have a severely overstretched situation in healthcare due to the pandemic.”
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said that spread of infectious illnesses such as flu usually falls over Christmas as people socialise in smaller circles and stay home more, and warned that the public must keep following recommendations to prevent an increase in cases and, later, serious illness and deaths.
“The coming weeks are completely critical,” said Tegnell.
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“It is extremely crucial that we are very careful in following the recommendations that are in place now, especially this week and next […] Above all, you should not create new contacts, for example by returning to work after the holidays or meeting people you haven't seen for a while.”
Under the national coronavirus guidelines, everyone is currently advised to work from home if they possibly can, only socialise within a small circle of close friends or family, and avoid unnecessary travel.
Over the past two weeks, there were 759 cases reported per 100,000 people, although that figure is uncertain due to lower than usual testing over the Christmas period.
The data published by the Public Health Agency also showed a new record day for deaths in Sweden, with further deaths recorded for December 17th bringing the total for that day to 116, higher than the previous peak of 115 which was reached on two days in April. It is likely the figures for deaths in the second half of December will see a further slight increase over the next few days.
The Local asked when the data for Christmas would be complete, giving an accurate picture of the situation during what appears to be the peak of the country's second wave.
“It is not so much a delay as a different way of working during the holiday period, with a lot of days when healthcare and other institutions are not working the same way as a normal workday. More cases will not turn up because there is not a delay in testing, it's more that less people can get tested when there is less personnel in the health services. When it comes to mortality data, we hope that during this week we will catch up and we will return to the normal delay in mortality data,” Tegnell said.
There is always a delay in the data because of the way in which Sweden's 21 regions, which are responsible for healthcare, report their figures to the agency. This means that deaths are included in the national data some time after they took place – usually around ten days later or less, but over the Christmas period this delay has lengthened.
A reporter for Radio Sweden asked how concerned the agency was over the new coronavirus strain first detected in the UK and thought to be more infectious, after a total of 25 cases were found in Sweden, eight with no apparent link to travel. Tegnell said that extensive testing had been carried out on all contacts of these eight.
“The cases we have found are extensively researched around and tested around. The message we get from the regions is that with the cases we have, the situation is under control, there is no ongoing transmission from them,” he said.
“Of course, there can very well be a few more cases around, but in spite of fairly extensive testing we have only found this handful of cases, which is a fairly good sign that extensive spread of the new variant in Sweden does not exist,” Tegnell told The Local when we asked how reliable the data could be if it was unclear where some of the cases came from.
“There could be some more small clusters of the new variant, it's difficult to say that that hasn't happened but we don't have the extensive spread they have in the UK, or even the level they have in Denmark we would have seen by now,” he added.