Sweden is considering cutting off Stockholm from the rest of the country after a spike of coronavirus deaths in the city.
The country reported 66 coronavirus deaths Thursday, up 60 per cent from the 41 reported the same time Wednesday and with more than half of the total having occurred in the capital.
Meanwhile cases rose by 534 from 2,272 to 2,806 – a rise of 23 per cent which is in line with the exponential growth curve seen in other European nations, meaning cases have roughly doubled every three days.
Sweden has so-far resisted following other European countries – including neighbours Norway and Denmark – into full lockdowns, but the latest figures have spooked politicians into a re-think.
Stockholm has accounted for 41 of the deaths from coronavirus so far in Sweden, with a rise of 18 overnight – the largest of the outbreak so far.
The capital also has the highest concentration of cases anywhere in the country, with 1,216 people infected.
Now there are concerns that people living in the city could spread it to previously-unaffected parts of the countryside as they visit holiday homes during the Easter break, Aftonbladet reports.
As a result, ministers are drawing up plans to isolate Stockholm from the rest of the country to try and contain the spread.
However, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell advised these are only plans and stressed ‘we are not there yet.’
It marks a dramatic shift from where Sweden was just 24 hours ago – with schools and bars open, and people being encouraged to go outside for fresh air.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, in a televised speech on Sunday, urged people to ‘take responsibility’ and follow the government’s recommendations.
Those include working from home if you can, staying home if you feel sick, practice social distancing, and stay home if you belong to a risk group or are over the age of 70.
Gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned – compared to more than two people in Britain and Germany – and the government has advised secondary schools and universities to close their facilities and conduct classes online.
Cases of people infected with coronavirus in the UK stands at 8,078 with 422 dead.
In Spain, there are 47,610 people infected and some 3,434 dead.
Whereas in Germany there are 33,954 people infected and 171 dead.
On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that restaurants and bars would only be allowed to provide table service to avoid crowding, but stopped short of actually closing them.
Health authorities also urged people to reconsider trips to visit relatives over Easter.
But for many, life is carrying on close to normal.
Bars and restaurants were full at the weekend, and Stockholm’s city buses have been jam-packed at rush hour despite the social distancing recommendations.
In contrast, neighbouring Norway two weeks ago rolled out the ‘most intrusive measures’ seen in peacetime, including banning sports and cultural events, and shutting down schools and businesses.
Sweden’s parliament has so far simply fast-tracked a bill allowing for the closure of primary and pre-schools – if deemed necessary.
However, in line with the rest with the rest of the European Union, Sweden has shut its borders to non-necessary travel.
Grilled by media about their apparently relaxed response to the pandemic, Swedish politicians respond that the government will take its cue from experts at the country’s Public Health Agency.
The agency has yet to call for stricter measures, arguing that the elderly should stay home, not children.
‘As soon as the Public Health Agency requests that the government make a decision, we will do it this quickly,’ Health Minister Lena Hallengren, snapping her fingers, said earlier this month.
But not everybody shares the government’s faith in the agency, with some accusing it of putting lives at risk.
This has led to a stream of vitriol on social media directed at the agency and its main spokesperson, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.
The amount of hateful comments became so overwhelming that the agency’s director, Johan Carlson, felt compelled to defend Tegnell, saying: ‘I think it’s close to unworthy, what he has been subjected to’.
The mounting pressure has not changed the authorities’ stance that draconian measures are not effective enough to justify their impact on society.
On Monday, Sweden’s former state epidemiologist and current advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), Johan Giesecke, encouraged Swedes to go out and enjoy the spring sun.
‘Bring a friend and walk a metre apart. Don’t hug your neighbour. Bring a thermos and sit on a park bench. It’s bad for your health to sit at home too,’ Giesecke told broadcaster SVT’s morning show.
Right or wrong, Sweden does not seem to have a worse virus problem than its neighbours, according to the numbers of declared cases.
Today, Sweden reported 2,299 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, while Norway and Denmark – which each have around half the population of Sweden – reported 2,566 and 1,577 cases, respectively.
All Scandinavian countries are however believed to have a big number of unknown cases as testing is only being done on patients with severe symptoms.