Anti-lockdown Sweden nears zero daily Covid deaths

But leading epidemiologist Anders Tegnell fears Delta variant could run rampant

Sweden’s coronavirus death toll is approaching zero but the country’s leading epidemiologist has warned of “serious consequences” if the Delta variant spreads uncontrollably.

Our World in Data said the Nordic nation recorded an average of 0.1 Covid-19 deaths in the previous seven days. Its death toll peaked on December 31, 2020, when the seven-day average was 99.

That compares to Britain's highest seven-day average of 1,285 recorded on January 19.

Sweden's hands-off approach to infection control attracted attention especially in the early days of the pandemic.

The country, which has never ordered a lockdown, relied primarily on voluntary measures but limits on restaurant opening hours and the amount of people allowed at sports venues, shopping centres and shops were introduced.

As of Tuesday, 14,655 people had died from Covid-19 in Sweden, a country with a population of 10 million. Denmark, Finland and Norway - which each have about 5 million inhabitants - have recorded death tolls of 2,550, then 984 and 799 respectively.

Despite shunning lockdowns, Sweden began imposing limits on social interaction in November last year as the infection rate increased.

The toughest Covid restrictions included a limit of eight people for social gatherings, restaurant curfews and capacity controls at shopping centres, while school pupils and students over 16 switched to remote learning.

Mask-wearing was advised on public transport during rush hour but the recommendation was withdrawn in December last year.

Other restrictions were eased on July 1, allowing larger crowds at sports stadiums and restaurants.

Under a five-stage plan, all remaining Covid restrictions are to be eased from September at the earliest.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, said there was still “a lot we don’t know” about the Delta strain and urged vigilance.

"There is a need for preparedness and attention everywhere,” he told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

“One should not draw any conclusions from the fact that no sick people have been found in a municipality this week. It can lead to serious consequences if you drop your guard.”

He said cases of the Delta variant were highest among young people.

“The infectiousness seems to be very uneven – in some cases, one person infects a hundred people, then we have other occasions when an infected person does not infect anyone at all,” he said.

About 40 per cent of Sweden’s population is fully vaccinated against the virus.

In May, a German study found an early lockdown could have prevented about 40 per cent of Sweden’s coronavirus deaths in the first wave.

A Swedish inquiry found the elderly remained vulnerable as authorities underestimated the strength of the second wave.

The government said it would “ring-fence” the elderly from Covid-19 and let society build up herd immunity to the virus.

The plan backfired, however, as deaths in care homes escalated alongside surging community transmission.

In December, Sweden’s king apologised for the country’s response.

"I believe we have failed," Carl XVI Gustaf said. “We have had a large number of deaths and that is terrible. That is something that brings us all suffering."

Updated: August 3rd 2021, 3:41 PM
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