Covid-19: Record-high case numbers and Swedish school closures

The region of Västra Götaland - where Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city, is located - reported 44,791 positive cases of Covid-19 last week, the highest number in a single week since the pandemic began.

Covid-19: Record-high case numbers and Swedish school closures
The Västra Götaland region has reported record-high numbers of PCR tests and positive cases of Covid-19 in the past week. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Västra Götaland also reported the highest number of PCR tests taken in a single week during the pandemic, 130,554 tests. Many in the region have experienced delays in booking tests and receiving results, meaning that there are probably even more infections than reported, the region said in a press statement.

Across the country, almost 140,000 new cases of Covid-19 have been reported since last Thursday. Last week, the Public Health Agency altered testing recommendations for regions, meaning that many regions no longer offer free PCR testing for the public. This has led many individuals to take at-home antigen tests, which are not registered in official figures.

In Stockholm region, 22 percent of school teachers were absent last week due to illness or quarantine, and five schools are closed, with more to come, newspaper DN reports.

So far this year, the city have introduced distance learning at 28 of the city’s 146 schools due to high absence or infection.

“Currently, it’s above all about staff absence. Until now we’ve only needed distance learning partly in some schools, in certain classes or year groups, and the decisions to do so only last a few days,” Teddy Söderberg, one of Stockholm’s primary school heads told DN.

Absences vary between different areas of the city, schools and year groups, as well as among staff groups and student groups. In some schools there have even been issues with school catering.

“We managed to solve one urgent issue by transporting cooked food from one school to another. It’s exhausting getting everything to work. We have a lot of employees doing a fantastic job now and a lot of coordinated efforts have meant we can hold our heads above water in this difficult situation,” Söderberg told DN.

Do you have children in a Swedish school or preschool? We want to hear from you about how you feel about the current outbreak. To share your thoughts, please respond to the survey in this article. We may use your answers in a future article.

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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.