In Sweden, Coronavirus Infections and Requires a Lockdown Are Rising

Sweden was an outlier in the global pandemic: it has avoided lockdowns and has largely opened restaurants, bars, schools, cinemas and gyms. And although mortality rates were high compared to their Nordic neighbors, they were comparable to those of larger European countries.

Now a second wave has sparked a fresh surge in infections and Stockholm emergency services are overcrowded, forcing authorities to recalibrate their approach. They introduced new restrictions at the end of November that make the country’s response a little better suited to the rest of Europe. These include drastic cuts in the size of public gatherings and some school closings.

However, with all ski lifts, restaurants and bars open, Sweden’s tougher restrictions have still faded compared to the rest of Europe, and there are growing concerns that not enough is being done. Intensive care beds in hospitals in the Stockholm area are currently all occupied, said regional health director Björn Eriksson at a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are working to well over 100 percent in the intensive care unit. We’re approaching almost double the number of seats available, ”he said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a debate has raged both inside and outside Sweden about how to contain the virus. When other countries were locked up in the spring, Sweden remained open to concerns that keeping everyone at home could have long-term harmful effects on children and adults, leading to depression, suicide, postponed health care and job losses.

On Monday, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the country’s experts had underestimated the likelihood of a second wave. It was the first time an official criticized the Swedish Health Department, the group of experts charged with drafting coronavirus guidelines, and epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who was charged with drafting coronavirus guidelines.

In October, Mr Tegnell said he hoped the spread of immunity among the population would help Sweden get through the case with a small number of cases.

“I think most of them haven’t seen a second wave in their job,” Lofven said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

Mr. Tegnell’s agency no longer decides on virus policy and increasingly has to share the stage with Swedish politicians who have taken a more active role.

During the first wave, deaths were particularly high among the elderly. On Tuesday, a special commission concluded in an initial report that the government was not protecting older people and not prepared for the pandemic. Nevertheless, the death toll among those over 80 was high across Europe.

Infection numbers and deaths have risen steadily since October. As of Tuesday, Sweden had reached a total of 320,098 cases since the pandemic began, while its neighbor Finland, with roughly half the Swedish population, has 31,110 cases, less than 10 percent of Sweden’s.

The total death toll in Sweden on Tuesday was 7,667. The country now has 74 deaths per 100,000 cases, fewer than the UK with 97 but far more than its neighbor Norway with seven.

“I’m afraid it will get worse,” said Karin Hildebrand, a cardiologist in the intensive care unit at Sodersjukhuset Hospital in Stockholm. “We all fear the coming weeks. We don’t have enough staff to handle it. “

Nurses have given up their jobs in large numbers since the pandemic began.

“Around 3,000 nurses quit their jobs in the first 10 months of the year,” said Sineva Ribeiro, president of the Swedish Association of Healthcare Professionals. “Those who stayed worked very, very hard.”

And now the government is being criticized for not doing enough.

“I was hoping this serious situation would change things, but yesterday they opened ski lifts in Sweden,” said Fredrik Elgh, professor of clinical virology at Umea University and a well-known critic of the official coronavirus response. “In the face of such measures, I do not think the government will take the determined measures it is hoping for.”

To stop the spread of the virus, Mr Lofven’s government issued new recommendations in late November banning gatherings of more than eight people.

While schools remained open to children under 16 during the pandemic, some will close after outbreaks. A ban on alcohol consumption after 10 p.m. was introduced. On Monday, a state agency sent bulk text messages warning people not to limit Christmas gatherings to a maximum of eight people.

But officials ask, don’t order.

Under Swedish law, the government cannot force people to stay home or punish those who violate the recommendations.

The Netherlands, with lower infection rates than Sweden, imposed a full lockdown on Tuesday. Germany closes most of the country on Wednesday.

Restaurants, cafes and bars in Sweden are still open.

Face masks are not recommended in Sweden as the health authority says there isn’t enough scientific evidence to show that they work.

On Monday afternoon, the “Chic Konditori”, which sells coffee and sweets in Stockholm, was full of customers. Tea Kagstrom, an 18-year-old college student with feathered blonde hair, was sitting with two friends enjoying a cup of coffee. When asked why she didn’t wear a face mask, she replied because it wasn’t mandatory.

“The public health agency didn’t say we should wear masks in public places,” she said.

The government is drafting an emergency law giving it the power to order bans and shut down businesses if the virus spreads.

Critics are still calling for stricter measures.

“We need a couple of weeks of lockdown to bring the numbers down,” said Tove Fall, professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University near Stockholm. “Other countries are taking much more precautionary measures at lower levels of transmission.”

Some are upset that Sweden does not use face masks.

“We are the only democracy in the world that does not recommend the use of face masks. There are more than 170 countries in the world that recommend the use of masks. But here they are saying that there isn’t enough science behind it. This is nonsense, “said the virology professor Elgh.

However, others still argue that the virus threat is exaggerated.

“Every death is sad, but it has to be proportioned. About 85 percent of those who died in Sweden also had another disease, and many of those who died this spring would likely have died later this year, “said Johnny Ludvigsson, a pediatrician at Linkoping University, in an interview with the Aftonbladet Newspaper.

“I think we are overly dramatic in terms of the number of deaths during the corona pandemic,” he said. “Compare that to what will happen when we get increased mortality in younger people from increased heart attack, late diagnosis of cancer, or increased levels of depression that can lead to suicide.”

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