Uppsala university students warned of coronavirus outbreak: ‘Tip of the iceberg’

Uppsala university students warned of coronavirus outbreak: 'Tip of the iceberg'
A sign urging people in Uppsala to keep their distance. Picture taken in October. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Regional authorities in Uppsala have warned that a more contagious variant of the coronavirus appears to be spreading rapidly among its university students.

Uppsala University warned students last week of an increased spread of coronavirus on its campuses, and on Monday the infectious disease unit in the region confirmed that at least 18 cases are likely the variant that was first discovered in South Africa (B.1.351).

“We think this could be the tip of the iceberg, and we take it very seriously. If we do not stop this outbreak, we risk a dramatic increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Uppsala,” said infectious disease doctor Johan Nöjd in a statement. He added that the spread is not limited to the university, so it’s crucial for everyone to be careful and follow the national and regional health and safety guidelines in place.

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Analysis of the tests is still ongoing, but the outbreak is not yet under control.

“You can be contagious for up to two days before you get symptoms, and this means that you have time to infect many without even knowing. We think we may be dealing with superspreader environments, where people have attended several parties and social contexts while being infectious,” said Mats Martinell, medical chief at the coronavirus test-and-trace unit in Uppsala.

There have been 640 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at Uppsala University since the start of the 2020 autumn semester in August, according to the university. That includes 520 Bachelor’s and Master’s students (a week-on-week increase of 31 cases last week), 12 doctoral students (no new cases confirmed last week) and 108 members of staff (an increase of two cases).

Last week, more than 12,000 PCR tests were carried out for ongoing Covid-19 infection in the Uppsala region, the highest weekly number since the start of the pandemic.

“We have a simple message to all students in Uppsala: take care of yourself, your family and your friends. Don’t go home and visit your parents in the near future. Definitely do not go to parties. There’s only one thing you should be doing: stay home and stay away from people, even if you yourself feel healthy. If you suspect that you may have been exposed to infection – isolate yourself,” added Martinell.

Uppsala is currently teaching most of its modules online, but its campuses are open.

“Transmission is occurring primarily both when students study close together on campus and in social, non-study contexts, eg at parties in student accommodation. The measures taking for teaching sessions and exams, on the other hand, have been effective,” said the university in a statement on Friday.

“The University wants to continue to keep its campuses open – many students have a great need to come to their campus. However, it is vital now to meet as few people as possible in as few places as possible and only at a safe distance.”

As well as getting tested if you experience any possible coronavirus symptoms, everyone who returns to Sweden from foreign travel should self-isolate for at least seven days, and get tested for Covid-19 as soon as possible after arrival (if you did not need to show a negative test to enter the country) and on the fifth day after arriving (this applies to everyone). Here’s a link to Sweden’s national recommendations, and here are the additional recommendations in place in Uppsala.


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