Swedish health minister ‘surprised’ by summer rise in Covid patients

Sweden's health minister, Lena Hallengren, has said it is "surprising" that the number of Covid-19 cases has started rising rapidly in the middle of the summer.

Swedish health minister 'surprised' by summer rise in Covid patients
Sweden's health minister Lena Hallengren announces a new survey of Covid cases by the National Board of Health and Welfare. Photo: Magnus Andersson/TT

The number of new Covid-19 cases being registered has risen by some 30 percent over the last few weeks, several regions are reporting a rise in the number of Covid-19 patients being treated, and 17 out of 21 regions have brought back a requirement for staff and patients to wear face masks at their facilities. 

“What is so surprising is that the growth is coming in the middle of summer,” Lena Hallengren, Sweden’s health minister, told the country’s TT newswire. 

The interview came as Hallengren announced an inquiry into how Sweden’s Covid-19 vaccination program had been planned and carried out, appointing Anders Jonsson, an MP for the Centre Party to head the investigation. Read the press release here

The unseasonal rise in cases is due to the new BA5 variant of Omicron, which is more infectious than other variants. 

But Hallengren said that there was no reason for people in Sweden to be alarmed, and that the government currently had no plans to bring back any restrictions to lower the number of cases. 

“We have to remember that we have a high level of vaccination cover which protects us from the most serious illness,” she said. 

READ ALSO: How much should we be concerned about rising Covid-19 rates in Sweden?

Some 85 percent of people in Sweden have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and over 65 percent have had three doses. Among the elder and those in risk groups, 70 percent of people have had four doses. 

Today testing is limited to patients and personnel within the healthcare system, with the ordinary public just advised to stay home if they have symptoms which might be Covid-19. 

“We are continuing to follow the development and are ready to take further measures should they be needed,” Hallengren said. 

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.