Warning of third wave as coronavirus continues to spread in Sweden

Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell on a computer screen
Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell on Tuesday. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
Sweden's coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing, and there is a risk of a third wave that could be more serious than the second wave, despite the ongoing vaccinations.

The number of new coronavirus cases has been on the increase in Sweden for three consecutive weeks now, with a 10 percent increase each week, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told the health authorities’ biweekly press conference on Tuesday.

Sweden now has a national incidence rate of 497 positive cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days, up from 445 a week ago.

On Tuesday, the Public Health Agency presented new scenarios for how the outbreak may develop in the next couple of months. The agency stresses these are not meant to be an exact forecast, but are rather a mathematical model which is intended to help healthcare services plan their work. However, they still give an indication as to what Swedish authorities expect and are planning for.

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The most serious of the three models, which is based on a scenario in which people increase their contacts rather than following recommendations not to socialise widely, suggests that the third wave could be twice as high as the one before Christmas.

“What we do in the coming weeks is going to play a very great part in how this spring unfolds,” said Tegnell.

If the situation keeps deteriorating, further measures may be necessary, states the new report outlining the scenarios. These may include a recommendation against domestic travel – similar to Sweden’s guidelines last spring – and binding rules that would force public transport operators to run at 50 percent of maximum capacity even for short journeys (a similar rule is currently in place for long-distance journeys).

If the situation instead improves, some of the current restrictions and recommendations may be lifted. However, the report notes that “this is currently the least likely scenario”.

Unlike during Sweden’s first and second waves of coronavirus, vaccinations will likely help keep the high number of deaths down, although the virus itself may still spread. Tegnell urged everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they are offered the vaccine.

“The healthcare sector is under heavy strain. To face the large need for care that could arise if the worst-case scenario happens is an extremely tough challenge for a healthcare sector that has been struggling for a very long time,” said Taha Alexandersson, deputy crisis manager at the National Board of Health and Welfare.

Watch the press conference below (in Swedish):

Two further measures were introduced at the press conference on Tuesday.

One of these is a Public Health Agency proposal to limit the number of people in a shop or department store to a maximum of 500. Under current rules, shops may allow no more than one person per 10 square metres; the new maximum limit would be imposed in addition to that, so it would only affect large premises. It would come into force on March 6th.

The other one is new guidelines for contact tracing at workplaces. These state that close contacts of a colleague who tests positive should not only stay at home if they have symptoms, but also get tested for Covid-19 even if they don’t have symptoms.

Sweden has confirmed 669,113 cases of the coronavirus to date and 12,882 people have died after testing positive.


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