Its neighbors closed borders, schools, bars and businesses as the coronavirus pandemic swept through Europe, but Sweden went against the grain by keeping public life as unrestricted as possible.
“In major parts of Sweden, around Stockholm, we have reached a plateau (in new cases) and we’re already seeing the effect of herd immunity and in a few weeks’ time we’ll see even more of the effects of that. And in the rest of the country, the situation is stable,” Dr. Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told CNBC on Tuesday.
Tegnell said sampling and modeling data indicated that 20% of Stockholm’s population is already immune to the virus, and that “in a few weeks’ time we might reach herd immunity and we believe that is why we’re seeing a slow decline in cases, in spite of sampling (testing for the coronavirus) more and more.”
The major part of Sweden’s 15,322 confirmed cases are in Stockholm and its surrounding areas, with very small incidences of the virus in the rest of Sweden — a country of around 10 million that has a low population density outside its urban hubs.
The number of cases in Sweden is almost double that in neighboring Denmark (it has 8,108 cases and has reported 370 deaths) and Finland (with just over 4,000 cases and 141 deaths) that imposed strict lockdown measures. Since their populations are each about 5 million — half of Sweden’s — the rates are about the same, although the comparison could be skewed by testing numbers in each country. Still, Sweden’s 1,937 death toll is far higher than its neighbors.
Sweden originally tested only people who came into a hospital but is now testing more key workers and those in care homes. Tegnell said the decision to test more groups of people was a reason for the number of confirmed cases not declining as quickly as it could have.
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Nonetheless, Tegnell said he was “fairly confident” in the strategy his agency had pursued but said it would be too early for the Swedish government to lift restrictions imposed to delay the spread of the virus. “A big part of the country has not been affected at all yet.”
Tegnell said that soon, several studies will be published to show the extent of infection and recovery (and hopefully) immunity to the virus. Data showed the peak of infections had already been reached in Stockholm.