SWEDEN’S top scientist says he is now considering ‘circuit-breaker’ style lockdowns in local areas following a spike in Stockholm.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is mulling whether to impose new restrictions in hard-hit areas in a bid to reduce transmission – despite initially rejecting the measures at the beginning of the pandemic.
Sweden controversially chose not to lock down in March in favour of a herd immunity strategy, but is yet to see the second wave of infections that is currently gripping France, Spain and the UK.
Shops, restaurants and schools all remained open as the rest of Europe went into lockdown, with the government advising the population to stick to social distancing and avoid gatherings.
The Scandinavian country currently has a low weekly rate of infection of 28 cases per 100,000 people compared to the UK’s 69 per 100,000 – though critics have pointed to its high mortality rate which is ten times higher than neighbour Norway.
The virus was also allowed to spread virtually unchecked in care homes – which account for nearly half of the country’s Covid-19 fatalities.
However, the capital Stockholm has seen a spike in cases, with the city’s health chief Björn Eriksson warning of “worrying signs of increasing infection”.
The Local reports that the city’s test positivity rate – which is the proportion of swabs that return a positive result – recently increased from 1.3 per cent to 2.2 per cent, which is well above the national average of 1.5 per cent.
The positivity rate is considered a good metric for measuring the extent of the pandemic as it indicates the level of testing relative to the size of the outbreak.
Professor Tegnell told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper: “We are thinking of fairly short restrictions, to break the spread of infection requires perhaps two to three weeks at most.
“We are still developing the concept, so to say, but something like that.”
He added: “The restrictions could be extremely local.
“It could be about a single workplace or city district: wherever you see a spread and think that there are restrictions that might stop it.”
The country’s Public Health Agency initially floated the changes to its strategy at a press conference on Tuesday, and emphasised its commitment to tackling local outbreaks as they occur.
It comes as Professor Tegnell this week claimed that the country’s high coronavirus death rate in comparison to its neighbour Norway could be linked to its elderly population surviving a “mild flu season”.
But the claim was refuted by Tegnell’s Norwegian counterpart Frode Forland, who told The Local that “it doesn’t look like there has been a particularly high death toll connected to influenza in recent years in Norway”.
Mr Forland argued that the differences in the death rate between the two countries was down to the Norwegian government’s decision to intervene and impose lockdown restrictions at an early stage in the pandemic.
Avoiding a lock down has seen Sweden’s economy shrink by just 9 per cent compared with the 20 per cent shock in the UK.
Tegnell has also resisted face mask laws, saying there is “very little evidence” they are effective and very few Swedes wear them.
As of Wednesday September 22, the country had reported around 5,800 Covid-19 deaths in total and 88,200 cases.