Sweden is seeing a ‘very positive’ downward trend in coronavirus cases after its much-debated decision not to go into lockdown, its top epidemiologist says.
Anders Tegnell said the number of seriously sick patients was ‘close to zero’ with the curve of new virus cases also bending downwards.
Tegnell is also continuing to play down the effectiveness of face masks – saying there is ‘no point’ wearing them on public transport.
Sweden recorded only 1,716 new cases last week, down from 9,094 just a month earlier, and deaths have also been on the decline.
‘The curves go down, and the curves over the seriously ill begin to be very close to zero. As a whole, it is very positive,’ Tegnell said.
Sweden became a closely-watched outlier in the spring after refusing to go into lockdown, with shops and restaurants staying open throughout the crisis.
Large gatherings were banned along with visits to nursing homes, but primary schools stayed open even in hard-hit Stockholm.
Citizens have largely complied with social distancing recommendations and the government says that its softer measures will be easier to maintain long-term.
On Monday, Sweden announced just 398 new cases over the weekend, down from 767 the week before and 2,530 only a month ago.
Measured by cases per million people, Sweden now has a similar infection rate to the UK and a much better one than the US.
Only a handful of people are now being admitted to intensive care per week, down from as many as 45 per day at the height of the crisis.
Deaths have also fallen, with 56 fatalities announced in the last week compared to 101 in the previous seven days.
However, Sweden’s death toll of 5,702 is well above that in Denmark, Norway and Finland, which have each seen fewer than 1,000 deaths.
In addition, Sweden has found itself marginalised as European countries re-open their borders for summer holidays.
The UK Foreign Office continues to advise against non-essential travel to Sweden, but has lifted that warning for the other Scandinavian countries.
The mixed results have prompted Swedish officials to promise an investigation into the country’s coronavirus response.
The commission has a broad mandate to look at how the virus arrived in Sweden, how it spread, the government’s response, and the effect on equality.
The commission will report on elderly care at the end of November, although its final conclusions are not due until 2022, ahead of a national election.
While countries including the UK have abandoned their initial scepticism about masks to order their use in shops and public transport, Sweden has again proved an outlier.
Tegnell says that ‘we see no point in wearing a face mask in Sweden, not even on public transport,’ according to Bloomberg.
Sweden has previously voiced hopes that its strategy would lead to herd immunity, which is when so many people are immune that the virus will not spread.
However, there are still significant uncertainties about what kind of immunity is generated when people recover from Covid-19.
Tegnell had claimed in April that up to 20 per cent of Stockholm residents were already immune, but a study released in May found the figure was only 7.3 per cent.
The World Health Organization has warned against pinning hopes on herd immunity. Research into a vaccine remains ongoing.