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The Local’s paywall-free Covid blog is coming to an end

After two years, it's time for us to bid farewell to The Local's paywall-free Covid blog. But we'll continue to cover the pandemic in other articles.

The Local's paywall-free Covid blog is coming to an end
A picture outside Jönköping Hospital where Sweden's first Covid case was confirmed in January 2020. Inset, a screenshot of The Local's blog. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

In March 2020, just a day before the World Health Organization declared that the spread of the new coronavirus was now a pandemic, we published The Local’s free Covid blog.

At the time it was not much more than a short timeline of the outbreak in Sweden up until that point. But since then, it’s been one of our most important articles.

In the past two years, the blog has been read more than a million times, and it’s been the most-read article on the site almost every day. Despite being completely free to read, it has also been the most-read article among paying members – thank you for your feedback and support, it’s been invaluable.

We’ve kept the blog updated almost every weekday for the past two years, while also producing other, more in-depth, articles on everything from Covid vaccine passes, opinion pieces and our own readers’ stories about the issues you told us affected you.

Most of the blog updates have been done by myself or Catherine Edwards, followed by her successor Becky Waterton from October 2021. That’s not a huge team, so we’re grateful that our community of members of The Local makes our newsroom feel much bigger.

We started the blog mainly to keep readers informed about new infections and changes to restrictions, recommendations and testing rules.

But we’ve reached a new stage of the pandemic, and it feels like the blog has served its purpose.

Nearly all restrictions and guidelines have been lifted, data on new infections is harder to come by since Sweden stopped testing the general public on February 9th, and today the Coronavirus Commission set up to investigate Sweden’s pandemic response presented its final report. We’ve written about it here.

Today will also be the last time we update the blog. But the pandemic itself, its impact on people, and The Local’s coverage, are not over. Loved ones are still falling ill and dying, vaccinations are still vitally important, and Sweden’s non-EU entry restrictions are still in place until March 31st.

We’ll continue to cover all of those things in other articles. If you want an email alert every time we publish a major Covid-19 story, make sure to update your newsletter preferences here.

It’s now time for us to focus our resources on those articles, as well as continuing to investigate other issues that affect foreign residents’ lives in Sweden. With Russia’s war in Ukraine, Sweden’s upcoming election in September, and potential changes to Sweden’s migration laws, there’s no shortage of such issues.

This is my last day at The Local before I go on parental leave. Our correspondent Richard Orange will take over as editor while I’m gone. You’re always welcome to get in touch with him and Becky Waterton at [email protected] if you have any questions about life in Sweden, or any stories you think they should cover.

As always, thanks for reading,

Emma

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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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