30 percent increase in new Covid-19 cases in Sweden in last week

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 increased by 30 percent in Sweden over the last week. This increase was especially noticeable in the major cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.

30 percent increase in new Covid-19 cases in Sweden in last week
Sara Byfors from the Public Health Agency at a press conference on Wednesday. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Last week, a record-high number of people in Sweden were tested – more than 380,000, of which 6.4 percent were positive.

“In principle, the spread of infection is increasing in all regions. Especially in the major cities,” said Sara Byfors, an expert from the Swedish Public Health Agency, at the health authorities weekly press conference, held on Wednesday instead of Thursday this week.

260 cases of the new Omicron variant of the virus have been confirmed in Sweden in total. There is not a lot of knowledge about the variant yet, but so far there is nothing to suggest that the virus makes people more seriously ill, but it appears to be more infectious.

On Wednesday, 91 Covid-19 patients were being treated in intensive care, with 471 in hospital in other departments. Infection is also increasing in elderly care.

Globally, cases of Covid-19 are slightly decreasing. In Europe, the curve is very flat – in some countries it is increasing, and in some countries it is decreasing.

“Cases are high in many countries now. And that’s before Omicron has taken hold in many countries,” said Byfors.

“It’s also clear that the vaccine is not as effective against becoming infected witth Omicron,” she said. The Public Health Agency does, however, believe that the vaccine still protects against serious illness caused by the Omicron variant.

All of the agency’s new possible scenarios show infection rates reaching a peak in January.

“We have seen with Omicron that the spread of infection happens extremely quickly, which also leads to increased pressure on healthcare services,” said Byfors.

In the agency’s worst-case scenario, Sweden will have almost 14,000 cases per day in mid-January. In the middle scenario, 8,000 cases per day, and in the best-case scenario, this number will be 4,000 per day.

According to the National Board of Health and Welfare, pressure on the healthcare system is increasing and will continue to do so until the end of January. Regions must now scale up capacity, said the board’s expert Thomas Lindén.

“We believe that capacity has been lower than we believe it should be,” he said.

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How much should we be concerned about rising Covid-19 rates in Sweden?

Covid-19 cases are once again escalating in more than a hundred countries, including Sweden, with the new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, both harder to track and more resistant to vaccines. Should we be worried?

How much should we be concerned about rising Covid-19 rates in Sweden?

How much reason is there to worry that Covid-19 is back? 

It depends if you are an ordinary citizen or a hospital manager. 

Peter Nilsson, an epidemiology professor at Lund University, told The Local that as over 85 percent of the Swedish population had received at least two doses, he did not expect the number becoming seriously ill to return to the levels seen in 2020 and 2021.  

“The Swedish population has a high degree of vaccination immunisation and it is unlikely that the situation will get serious,” he said. 

But there is a nonetheless a risk that the rising rates of infection will put pressure on some hospitals, particularly when many staff are off for their summer breaks. 

“More people will need hospital care as a result, and if healthcare staff fall ill with Covid-19 at the same time as there is holiday staffing at many hospitals and care facilities, this may mean an increased burden on healthcare,” Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Lindblom said in a press release

Patrik Söderberg, the head doctor for the Stockholm Region, warned that the the rise in the number of patients with Covid-19 in hospitals was “a clear step in the wrong direction”. 

How and why are Covid-19 rates rising in Sweden? 

According to the Swedish Public Health Authority, over 3,000 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Sweden in the final two weeks of June, a 41% rise from the two previous weeks.

The reason is that the new BA.5 variant of omicron has become dominant in Sweden, and there is growing evidence that BA.5 is better at infecting both those who have received a vaccine and those who have previously contracted Covid-19. 

There is also clear evidence, however, that vaccinations continue to offer protection against life-threatening conditions and death, even with BA.5, and there is currently no evidence that the variant causes a more severe version of the disease. 

Although Lindblom said it was impossible to predict the length of time the virus would continue to spread, he warned that Sweden could see rising infection rates for several weeks to come. 

What’s been happening outside Sweden? 

According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, the pandemic is changing, but not over. 

“Cases are on the rise in 110 countries, causing overall global cases to increase by 20%,” he said in a media briefing at the end of last month. “Our ability to track the virus is under threat as reporting and genomic sequences are declining, meaning it’s becoming harder to track Omicron and analyse future emerging variants.”

Some countries have responded by extending or bringing back Covid-19 restrictions. 

China has maintained some of the toughest restrictions, and while other countries have mostly been easing them, but as cases continue to rise, some may soon bring back restrictions such as mandatory masks and stricter contact tracing. 

Italy has extended the need to use masks on public transport until the end of September. Germany and Ireland are thinking about making them mandatory for a few months to curb the new, highly resistant variants.

The WHO and several other organisations are encouraging more vaccination campaigns and booster shots.

So is there a risk of Covid-19 restrictions returning in Sweden too? 

Sweden saw some of the world’s most relaxed regulations during the pandemic, and it looks unlikely that even those will be reimposed. The only change so far is that hospitals have once again made masks mandatory. 

What is being done to keep Covid-19 under control? 

Adults in risk groups and those over 65 are encouraged to take a top-up dose starting on September 1st. A fourth booster will be free for adults of various ages soon after that.

An autumn immunisation policy is also being developed, Anders Lindblom told Svenska Dagbladet, with details to be announced in the coming weeks. 

What Covid-19 recommendations still apply in Sweden? 

  • Everyone above the age of 12 should receive a Covid-19 vaccination, according to the Swedish Public Health Agency. It lessens the chance of developing fatal diseases and dying.
  • Anyone experiencing symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, fever or cough are recommended to stay at home,  even those who have been vaccinated or who have previously had COVID-19.
  • Unvaccinated people are more likely to suffer significant COVID-19 illness. An unvaccinated person should take extra precautions and stay away from crowded indoor spaces to prevent getting sick.
  • The general population is no longer advised to undergo PCR testing, even if they experience symptoms, with the exception expectant mothers, those working in health and elderly care, and those providing care for patients with weakened immune systems who are at a high risk of developing a serious illness.