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IN NUMBERS: Excess mortality in Sweden during pandemic now lower than most in Europe

Sweden this week reported the highest daily number of confirmed cases so far. But its rate of excess mortality during the pandemic is now less than most other countries in Europe.

IN NUMBERS: Excess mortality in Sweden during pandemic now lower than most in Europe
A Covid-19 test centre in Stockholm. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
Sweden on Thursday set a new Covid-19 record, registering 23,877 cases. This came just two days after the last record was set, with the 17,457 cases recorded on Tuesday. Daily reported cases are now at around double where they were at Sweden’s previous Covid peak on 23 December 2020, when the previous record of 11,376 daily cases was set. 
Source: Swedish Public Health Agency
While the number of confirmed cases per capita is extremely high, Sweden is by no means an outlier in Europe, with many other countries reporting higher rates over the past seven days. 
The high case rates in Sweden have also, so far, not led to a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 patients being treated in intensive care in Swedish hospitals.
According to the database kept by public broadcaster SVT, which collects information from official sources, there were 834 patients being treated in hospital (but not in intensive care wards) on Thursday. That is up from 610 on January 1st, and up from 485 patients the week before. But it is well below the number the peak of the second wave at around the same time last year, when hospitals had more than 2,600 Covid patients. 
The number of daily new admissions to intensive care units is also at more or less the same level reported at the end of December. 
According to SVT’s database, there were 106 patients being treated for Covid-19 in intensive care on Saturday, January 8th, 15 fewer than the 121 being treated on January 3rd, and well below the first wave peak of 558 recorded at the end of April in 2020. 
Compared to most other European countries, the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid-19 in Sweden remains low, with only Austria, The Netherlands, and Norway reporting a lower per capita hospitalisation rate.   
When it comes to the number of deaths with Covid-19 over the past seven days, Sweden is in an even better position. In the week running up to and including Friday 7 January, Sweden had the lowest number of confirmed deaths per million people in Europe. 
This follows a pattern seen since early last year.
By the end of October 2020, Sweden had one of the highest Covid death rates in Europe, behind only Belgium, Spain, the UK, and Italy. 
But Sweden’s death rate was relatively low throughout the second half of last year, meaning its cumulative Covid-19 death rate over the pandemic is now lower than those of most countries in Europe. 
When you look at total excess mortality — the cumulative difference between the reported number of deaths since 1 January 2020 and the projected number of deaths for the same period based on previous years — Sweden now has one of the lowest rates in Europe. 

Member comments

  1. I feel like the true comparison should be with Finland, Norway and Denmark. When you compare with those countries Sweden isn’t near the bottom, it’s first place in a race you don’t want to win.

    Someone here want to defend Sweden’s response in light of the graphs?

    1. I agree. The question remains: who determined the policy, what was the policy, and why was it followed. Not facing this with honesty will lead to future problems.

    2. Yup this is completely right, as that comparison takes into account similar economies, climates, social policies & population density/behaviours.

      When you take this comparison it is very evident Sweden has had a very different approach to handling the pandemic: Prioritising maintaining the lifestyles of the majority of citizens over the health of those most in need of help.

      The notion Sweden is one of the ‘best performing’ countries in Europe, given its’ small population, high level of public spending per capitia, is so infuriating.

      Comparisons like the ones in this article feed into a false narrative that no more could have been done to help, in a country where people still won’t wear face masks to stop the spread of the disease to those it could seriously harm.

      As a society Sweden could and should have done much more to protect the most vulnerable people.

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”