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COVID-19 STATS

What’s next for the Covid pandemic in Sweden?

The Swedish Public Health Agency believes that the spread of Covid-19 has peaked and will continue to decrease this spring, but a second scenario warns healthcare services to be prepared in case a new virus variant appears.

What's next for the Covid pandemic in Sweden?
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell at a press conference in January 2022. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

The new scenarios presented by the Public Health Agency are not a prognosis, but are meant as a tool for healthcare services to plan for the coming months.

Scenario 0, which the agency believes is the most likely, is that the spread of infection will continue to decrease to a low level, where it will remain until the summer.

“We are in a new stage of the pandemic where there is broad immunological protection in the population, since many are vaccinated and have had the infection. Even if the spread of infection were to rise again, it is unlikely that many would become seriously ill,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in a statement.

The agency’s second scenario, scenario 1, plans for a hypothetical new variant of the virus spreading from around March 20th. It assumes that this variant is as infectious as Omicron, with three-month protection for those who have previously been infected with Omicron.

In this scenario, the spread of infection would instead increase during spring 2022, reaching a peak in mid-May.

The agency said it believes the latter scenario to be unlikely, although it cannot be ruled out.

“This is why it is important that healthcare services are highly prepared,” Tegnell said. “Well-followed hygiene routines are the foundation for preventing the spread of infection. By continuing to monitor and test nationally within healthcare, we can see changes in the spread of infection and demand for healthcare, and can even discover new variants of the virus.”

These new scenarios cover the period from now until May 20th. New scenarios will be presented by the agency on April 20th.

The Public Health Agency stated that it does not currently see any reason to reintroduce measures to limit the spread of infection based on these scenarios, but added that “it is likely that Covid-19 will require further vaccinations for all or parts of the population during future winter seasons”. 

Currently, around 84 percent of Sweden’s over-12 population have been vaccinated with two or more doses.

Sweden ended most Covid restrictions on February 9th. On the same day it stopped testing the general public, limiting them to staff and patients in the health and elderly care sectors. That same week, a total of 62,406 new infections were confirmed, down 66 percent on the previous week. A total of 2,422,856 Covid infections have been confirmed in Sweden since the start of the pandemic.

The number of deaths with Covid reached its highest level in a year during those two weeks. On February 3rd, 55 deaths were reported, the highest number since January 30th last year. In total, 16,852 people have died in Sweden within 30 days after testing positive for Covid.

The number of Covid patients in intensive care has been on a downward curve since early February. Eighty-one Covid patients were receiving intensive care on Monday, according to public broadcaster SVT’s database – a decrease of ten patients in one week.

The Coronavirus Commission, appointed to examine Sweden’s coronavirus strategy, is set to present its final report later this week. You can read more about its findings in its first two reports here and here. The Local will cover the release of the final report on Friday.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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