IN NUMBERS: New Covid-19 infections continue to increase in Sweden

The number of confirmed new Covid-19 cases increased 14 percent in the week of Christmas, according to a preliminary analysis by the Public Health Agency.

IN NUMBERS: New Covid-19 infections continue to increase in Sweden
A box where people can pick up self-test kits for Covid. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden confirmed around 9,000 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since last December. Data for individual days are likely affected by factors like less testing (due to for example fewer staff and a lower inclination to get tested) and reporting lags over the Christmas holidays and should be taken with a pinch of salt – but it follows a sharply rising infection rate since mid-November.

Last week Sweden’s three-week rolling average stood at 327 new Covid cases per 100,000 unvaccinated people over the age of 12, and 187 per vaccinated over-12s, wrote the Public Health Agency as it presented the latest available data on Wednesday afternoon.

Of confirmed cases last week, 36 percent were unvaccinated.

So far, 29 percent of all over-18s in Sweden have received their booster dose of a Covid vaccine, and 79 percent of everyone aged over 65, said the Public Health Agency. More than 85 percent of over-12s have had at least one jab, and more than 81 percent have had two.

Sweden’s death rate remains relatively low, although around a handful of people are still dying every day after testing positive for Covid.

But the number of people in need of intensive care is increasing, with 52 new patients admitted to intensive care last week.

More than 100 Covid patients are currently in intensive care in Sweden, as The Local reported on Wednesday. The number of intensive care patients per 100,000 people was last week 12 times higher among unvaccinated than vaccinated people, said the Public Health Agency.

According to a preliminary analysis of positive tests, the number of cases of the new Omicron variant ranged from three to 51 percent across various regions last week, but the majority of regions had not reported new data on the variant over the Christmas holidays.

The variant is believed to be milder but more infectious than other variants, but much about it is still unknown.

The spread of infection has reached record levels in much of Europe, with several countries now recording their highest levels of daily cases since the start of the pandemic. Denmark on Wednesday found 23,228 new cases among 189,512 PCR tests, its highest daily total to date.

Sweden’s confirmed infection rate is still lower than the second wave last winter, but it’s worth bearing in mind that its curve has generally been a few weeks behind many other European countries. The Public Health Agency believes Omicron will dominate by mid-January.

Member comments

  1. Dear theLocal, thanks for continuosly publishing these important data about C-19 evolution. I also praise the fact that you post a graph illustrating evolution in time, so much more worthy than thousand words. In this respect, is there any way you may put any pressure on other newspaper and to the FHM to provide a bunch of simple graphs? FHM contains a lot of information, but you really need to dig in, it seems really done on purpose to discourage people from getting that essential figures. Good examples of graphic information are daily given in the The Guardian,
    where you barely need to read a line to have a clear idea of what is going on
    I haven’t found so far anything comparable in the Swedish newspapers.
    Happy New Year

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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.