Sweden’s 14-day incidence rate is now down to 45 new cases per 100,000 people, the lowest level in months. That’s a similar level to neighbour Denmark as well as France and Belgium, according to ECDC data.
“We have a continued decline in the number of cases, but it is still important to be have vigilance, especially for local outbreaks,” said Sara Byfors of the Public Health Agency.
Currently, incidence rates continue to vary within Sweden, with Värmland reporting just under 200 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks following outbreaks of the Delta variant, while in Norrbotten the figure was 215.
Byfors said that in regions with higher incidence rates, “individuals perhaps need to be a bit more careful about how they behave, maybe be a bit stricter with how many people you meet”.
The Local asked Byfors if new tools or processes were being provided to support regions in handling outbreaks, and she responded that they were already well prepared for this.
“I think they have developed, over time, systems for contact tracing and how they handle outbreaks or an indication that they have an increase of cases in a certain environment. So I think they have these tools already and they have certainly improved over time. We also have a very good capacity for testing now, so that is not the issue that it was early in the pandemic,” she explained.
One of the concerns she mentioned was the increasing spread of the Delta variant of the virus, known to be more highly contagious.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday that the number of new cases of Covid-19 is increasing again after more than two months of reduced transmission, with the Delta variant a key reason for the break in the positive trend.
But Byfors reiterated statements previously made by her Public Health Agency colleagues that the agency does not expect the spread of Delta in itself to increase the overall infection rate in Sweden.
She said that if the variant becomes dominant as expected, this may lead to changes in restrictions, “for example we may need to change guidance on who needs to isolate when a close contact has symptoms”, and that other restrictions may need to be made stricter if the infection rate rises.
Answering a question from the TT newswire, she said: “We cannot promise that there won’t be a spread of infection, but good testing and contact tracing mean that it is still OK to open up [society]. But we want to say clearly: continue following the recommendations that exist. Our basic assessment is that the same preventative measures can be used against the Delta variant as other variants.”
The Local asked Byfors if the restrictions in Sweden, which were relaxed on July 1st, are likely to be sufficient in keeping the overall spread of the virus low given the spread of the Delta variant.
She said: “We think that we are keeping most of the basic recommendations: keep your distance to people you don’t know, avoid areas where you think there will be crowding. It’s very important that we continue like we have done up to now and follow these recommendations. It’s also important that individuals take the responsibility to isolate when you have symptoms, and to be really careful when you meet other people. Meet outside, don’t socialise in too big groups and so on.”
The Local asked if media coverage and public reaction to the relaxations as ‘returning to normal’ was then a misinterpretation, to which Byfors agreed.
“I would say it’s a misinterpretation, but it’s come after a long time of socialisation for some. I think that some have isolated too much and some too little, you have the whole spectrum,” she answered. “[How people interpret the rule changes] is also what you want to hear and not what you really understand. So we can just repeat over and over again that the pandemic is not over. It’s also important for people to socialise and to meet others, certainly those that have not met a lot of people at all and are fully vaccinated now, they need to feel that they can do that without risking their own health.”
You can watch the full press conference online at the agency’s YouTube channel. The Local’s questions, asked and answered in English, come around 1hr10. It was the final regular Covid-19 press conference from the Swedish authorities before the summer break (they have said they will hold further briefings at short notice if needed).