Despite a tightening of the authorities in recent weeks, Sweden and its atypical strategy against the coronavirus are again put in great difficulty by a formidable second wave that the Nordic country has long believed it could avoid.
“The public health authority had prepared three scenarios this summer. We had settled on the worst. However, it turns out that it is twice as bad ”than feared, explains Lars Falk, an intensive care manager at Karolinska hospital in Stockholm.
Resuscitation services under pressure, demand for reinforcement from all qualified health personnel in Stockholm, mortality up to ten times higher than its northern neighbors: this fall, the Swedish strategy, less strict in the face of the epidemic, repeats its very poor results of spring.
“Unfortunately, the level of contamination is not decreasing (…) and it is very worrying,” said the health director of the Stockholm region, Björn Eriksson, describing “extreme pressure on the health system”.
After having already requested reinforcement from all qualified health personnel, including private clinics, he ordered Tuesday the cancellation of all non-emergency operations in the region.
“Now that’s enough”, he had railed last week. “It’s not worth having a drink after work, meeting people outside your home, Christmas shopping or having a coffee: the consequences are terrible”.
Earlier this week, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Sweden equaled their peak on April 20, with nearly 2,400 patients treated – even though the proportion in intensive care is half that in spring, around 10% .
The death toll reached 7,802 on Wednesday – including more than 1,800 since the beginning of November – and the number of new cases is hovering around a record level, above 6,000 per day on average, according to official data.
Late turn of the screw
Without a mask, or closure of bars, restaurants and shops, or compulsory quarantine, Sweden has distinguished itself with a strategy based essentially on “recommendations” and very few coercive measures.
Faced with the strong rise in cases, very strict recommendations have nevertheless been issued – in particular to only attend people from his household – but their non-compliance is not penalized.
Contrary to popular belief, the Scandinavian country has never aimed for collective immunity.
But its health officials have long estimated that the high level of contamination in the spring would undoubtedly allow it to contain a resurgence of the epidemic more easily in the long term.
“I think we will have relatively low contamination this fall,” said chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in August.
The facts seemed to prove him right for a while, but the second wave which Sweden believed it could escape finally swept over the country a little later than elsewhere in Europe.
The excess mortality rate already exceeded 10% in November, according to the statistical office, and it is expected to continue to worsen.
Despite criticism from an independent committee on Tuesday, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has so far refused to call the strategy a failure.
“Most health experts did not see the wave in front of them, they were talking about localized outbreaks,” he admitted, however, in a daily interview. Aftonbladet.
For doctor Lars Falk, “we have tightened the screw but I believe we must do even more”, especially during the holiday season.
The government has emerged from oblivion an emergency bill to close stores and restaurants. However, entry into force is not expected until mid-March.
Like the rest of the European Union, Sweden also has high hopes for the vaccination that it hopes to launch at the end of December and offer the entire population around mid-2021.