Coronavirus Sweden: Authorities to bring in local lockdowns as Covid cases rise

Swedish authorities want to bring in local lockdowns to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus in the country, experts have revealed.

The move marks a new approach in Sweden‘s handling of the virus – after the country kept bars and restaurants open while the rest of the world shut down in March.

‘It’s more of a lockdown situation – but a local lockdown,’ Johan Nojd, who leads the infectious diseases department in Uppsala, told The Telegraph.

It comes as several European nations put into effect new measures and restrictions in an effort to curb the second wave of the coronavirus rapidly spreading across the continent, with cases skyrocketing. 

Coronavirus cases have been gradually increasing since the start of September, dashing Sweden’s hopes for immunity.

A seven-day average of 65 per million people per day was reported to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on Friday. This is compared to 71, 40 and 25 cases per million in Denmark, Finland and Norway.

A graph showing Sweden’s daily reported coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, which have been rising in recent weeks after a sustained fall 

A graph showing Sweden’s daily death figure, which has also been rising in recent weeks

The new rules, expected to come into force on Monday, will allow regional health authorities to ask citizens to avoid public places such as shopping centres, museums, libraries, swimming pools, concerts and gyms. 

Authories could also ask people to stay away from public transport or avoid visiting elderly or at-risk groups. The rules would be offered as guidelines rather than requirements with the country continuing to avoid fines.

Bitte Brastad, chief legal officer at the agency, said the new measures were ‘something in between regulations and recommendations’ and Dr Nojd confimed further measures would be imposed if contact tracing shows links between infections and certain areas.    

The Scandinavian country was a talking point during the pandemic for its resistance to imposing a national lockdown like its European neighbours.  

The move marks a new approach in Sweden’s handling of the virus – after the country kept bars and restaurants open while the rest of the world shut down in March. Pictured, people walk on Stranvagen in Stockholm on September 19

Much of Europe has introduced measures such as shutting or ordering early closing of bars, but now the surging infection rates are also testing the resolve of governments to keep schools and non-COVID medical care running. 

On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her citizens to expect ‘difficult months ahead’ as the country posted a new daily record of over 7,800 new coronavirus cases, and urged Germans to come together like they did in the spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

‘Difficult months are ahead of us,’ she said in her weekly video podcast. ‘How winter will be, how our Christmas will be – that will all be decided in these coming days and weeks, and it will be decided by our behaviour.’

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce another set of measures on Sunday to counter the new wave of COVID-19 cases, his office said, with school closures being considered. The also country registered a new daily record of infections on Saturday.  

Anders Wallensten, deputy to Sweden’s leading epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, said the country has ‘some immunity as a consequence of how we have managed’ the crisis. 

Unlike most countries, Sweden did not go into a lockdown when the pandemic spread across Europe in the spring.

Instead, there was an emphasis on personal responsibility, with most bars, schools, restaurants and salons remaining open while the rest of Europe shut down.  

As a result, cases are not rising as drastically as in the UK, Spain and France because a layer of immunity has stopped people from catching it, he suggested.  

But Mr Wallensten claimed ‘herd immunity’ was never a goal in itself, despite officials indicating it was on a number of occasions.   

He said Swedes have not become tired of the restrictions because they have remained the same throughout the whole pandemic in order to avoid confusion. 

The new rules, expected to come into force on Monday, will allow regional health authorities to ask citizens to avoid public places such as shopping centres, museums, libraries, swimming pools, concerts and gyms. Pictured, people enjoying a drink in Stockholm in April

Dr Gabriel Scally, an epidemiologist at the Royal Society of Medicine, said ‘clear and consistent messaging’ was what the UK Government failed to do.

Dr Anders Tegnell guided the nation through the pandemic, and previously said the ‘world went mad’ with lockdowns.  

Dr Tegnell has repeatedly insisted the government’s objective was not to achieve rapid herd immunity but rather to slow the spread of the coronavirus to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed.

HERD IMMUNITY APPROACH IS A ‘DANGEROUS FALLACY’, SCIENTISTS SAY

Herd immunity approaches to managing the coronavirus crisis are a ‘dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence’, a group of researchers has warned.

Adopting a herd immunity strategy would not end the pandemic but rather result in recurring epidemics, according to an open letter signed by 80 international researchers published by The Lancet this week. 

The authors argue that any strategy relying on immunity from natural infections of Covid-19 is ‘flawed’, adding that uncontrolled transmission in younger people risks ill-health and death across a whole population.

Instead, the letter calls for suppression of the virus until there is an effective vaccine.  

The letter says: ‘The arrival of a second wave and the realisation of the challenges ahead has led to renewed interest in a so-called herd immunity approach, which suggests allowing a large uncontrolled outbreak in the low-risk population while protecting the vulnerable.

‘Proponents suggest this would lead to the development of infection-acquired population immunity in the low-risk population, which will eventually protect the vulnerable.

‘This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.’

The authors warn there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity after natural infection, and so the strategy could result in repeated waves of transmission over several years.

This would put vulnerable populations at risk for the ‘indefinite future’, as it would not end the Covid-19 pandemic but result in recurrent epidemics, they add.

The researchers argue that defining who is vulnerable would be ‘complex’, while prolonged isolation of large swathes of a population is ‘practically impossible and highly unethical’.

Additionally, the authors say it is still not understood who might suffer from long Covid – when people experience symptoms months after infection.

‘The evidence is very clear: controlling community spread of Covid-19 is the best way to protect our societies and economies until safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics arrive within the coming months,’ the letter concludes. 

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock dismissed herd immunity as ‘flawed’ without a vaccine, telling the Commons it was ‘simply not possible’ to segregate the old and the vulnerable. 

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Hancock criticised the so-called Great Barrington Declaration, which calls for an easing of lockdown measures in a switch of strategy to a herd immunity approach.

Mr Hancock said: ‘It says that if enough people get Covid, we will reach herd immunity. This is not true.

‘Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, like measles and malaria and Aids and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to Covid, even if everyone caught it.

‘Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we can’t.’

However, email exchanges obtained by Swedish journalists under freedom of information laws in August revealed Dr Tegnell discussed herd immunity as an objective in mid-March. 

Mr Wallensten said the restrictions have been ‘the same all along’ – and that may be why it has not seen cases soar for a second time in recent months. 

Speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine virtual briefing, he said he doesn’t think any country was immune to a second wave of the coronavirus.

‘But if I should speculate on what could be a reason why we have not yet, and it is only yet because figures are rising in Sweden, we are not seeing the same extent of transmission, it may be the fact we did, perhaps, in your view, have a lighter touch,’ he said.

‘We’ve had the same restrictions all along and maybe that’s a reason we don’t see major changes. Because transmission has been limited in the sort of the same way throughout.

‘Also of course since we know we’ve had quite a lot of transmission in Sweden there is immunity in some individuals and that may slow it down this period, especially in some areas there was more transmission.’ 

Mr Wallensten said Swedes have not developed the dreaded ‘lockdown fatigue’ – a phenomenon in which the public resist restrictions because they are tired of how they impact on their lives.

He said: ‘We are really in it for the long run. And we think pandemic fatigue, or whatever people call it, is an issue and maybe that’s also part of what we are seeing now. 

‘But so far investigations into how much people comply with our recommendations and the trust in the authorities; it’s been very good so far and not really declining.

‘So having this balanced recommendations people can accept and they make sense, it’s easier to have them in place for longer time.’

Dr Scally, president of the Epidemiology and Public Health Section of The RSM and member of Independent SAGE, said he thinks the UK Government faltered in handling the coronavirus in its lack of consistency.

He said: ‘The problem has been in consistent messaging. One of the key public health mantras is about being clear and consistent. 

‘And they are far from clear and consistent from the government unfortunately. 

‘As everyone knows we were being extorted to work in our offices in the centre of cities even if we didn’t want to, because it would be good for the economy. Then a couple of weeks later the virus numbers go up and we were told stay at home if you can. 

‘People get confused by that, they lose hope and belief. 

‘Clear and consistent messaging from the Government is much more important than people simply getting tired. Because the polling shows people don’t like this virus and they want stricter measures.’   

Mr Wallensten went on to answer some of the burning questions over Sweden’s strategy to limit the coronavirus impact.

He said: ‘There’s been discussion whether Sweden is aiming for some protection through herd immunity. That’s never been part of our policy.

‘From the start we’ve been trying to make sure our hospitals can manage the situation and that we protect our elderly and vulnerable. That’s been the main goal.

‘But during part of our pandemic so far in Sweden, we have had a lot of transmission. Now of course that transmission itself of course generates immunity. 

‘But no one really knows how much is needed for herd immunity, and how long immunity lasts. So it wouldn’t have been a very clever goal. 

‘We have some immunity as a consequence of how we have managed. But it’s not been a goal itself.’

The health authorities predicted that 40 per cent of the Stockholm population would have had the disease and acquired antibodies, detectable in the blood, by May.

Dr Tegnell said in May he believed ‘a little more than 20 per cent’ had probably contracted the virus in Stockholm. 

The actual figure was 17 per cent, according to a review of evidence published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in August.  

It’s the same as London, according to tests of the public in April and May, despite the UK going into strict lockdown.

Employees socially distance due to the coronavirus as they have a drink after work, in Stockholm on Friday, June 26

Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia watch an adapted set of Verdi’s Rigoletto employing social distancing measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, Sweden October 12

The findings led lead author Professor David Goldsmith to say: ‘We in the UK would do well to remember we nearly trod the same path as Sweden, as herd immunity was often discussed here in early March. 

‘Right now, despite strict (but tardy) lock-down in the UK, and the more measured Swedish response, both countries have seen high seven-day averaged Covid-19 death rates compared to other Scandinavian and European countries.’ 

Scientists estimated early in the pandemic that at least 70 per cent of people would need to be immune to the coronavirus in order for the population to have ‘herd immunity’. But since, the figure has ranged from 20 to 70 per cent. 

In truth, it is not clear if herd immunity can ever be achieved, mostly on the basis that antibodies are thought to wane in just a few weeks.  

The ‘strategy’ is also highly controversial because in order for it to work, it would involve a high number of cases, and therefore a high number of deaths.  

The number of deaths per million in Sweden is much higher than some of its closest neighbours with similar population densities.

Sweden has had 584 deaths per million people compared with 116 in Denmark, 63 in Finland and 51 in Norway. The UK’s is 635.  

Dr Joacim Rocklov, professor of epidemiology at Umea University, said that the new local measures showed Sweden quietly shifting strategy.

‘What’s happened in the last couple of weeks is a movement towards a similar model to what has been used in Norway and many other countries,’ he said.

‘It’s very obvious that it’s a new strategy, but still the newspapers report on “the Swedish strategy” as if it were fixed in March.’

He said he thought the resurgence in infections in countries with a high number of cases in the spring challenged the belief in herd immunity.

Europe second wave keeps rising as Angela Merkel warns Germans ‘difficult months are ahead’ and Italy considers closing schools again after both countries posted record case totals 

Several European nations have put into effect new measures and restrictions in an effort to curb the second wave of the coronavirus rapidly spreading across the continent, with cases skyrocketing. 

Much of Europe has introduced measures such as shutting or ordering early closing of bars, but now the surging infection rates are also testing the resolve of governments to keep schools and non-COVID medical care running. 

On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned her citizens to expect ‘difficult months ahead’ as the country posted a new daily record of over 7,800 new coronavirus cases, and urged Germans to come together like they did in the spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

‘Difficult months are ahead of us,’ she said in her weekly video podcast. ‘How winter will be, how our Christmas will be – that will all be decided in these coming days and weeks, and it will be decided by our behaviour.’

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce another set of measures on Sunday to counter the new wave of COVID-19 cases, his office said, with school closures being considered. The also country registered a new daily record of infections on Saturday. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) has told her citizens that ‘difficult months are ahead of us’ as Covid-19 cases continue to rise rapidly in the country lauded for its response to the virus. Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (right) is expected to announce another set of measures on Sunday to counter the new wave of COVID-19 cases, his office said, with school closures being considered

Europe surpassed 150,000 daily coronavirus cases on Friday – just a week after reporting 100,000 cases in one day for the first time since the start of the pandemic – with The United Kingdom, France, Russia, Netherlands, Germany and Spain accounting for about half of Europe’s new cases this week, according to a Reuters tally.

While Europe is reporting more daily cases than India, Brazil and the United States combined, the increase is partly explained by far more testing being done than during the first wave in the spring.

France, Germany and Italy all recorded a record number of new daily coronavirus cases on Saturday, with France reporting the highest seven-day average of new cases in Europe with 21,210 infections per day.

In the United Kingdom, a seven-day average of 16,228 new cases per day is being reported, and the country has introduced a tiered system of tougher restrictions in some areas. 

Europe surpassed 150,000 daily coronavirus cases on Friday – just a week after reporting 100,000 cases in one day for the first time since the start of the pandemic. While Europe as a whole is reporting more daily cases than India, Brazil and the United States combined, the increase is partly explained by far more testing being done than during the first wave. Pictured: Graphs showing the 7-day average number of coronavirus related cases (top) and deaths (bottom) per million people

Germany, which was widely lauded for being able to slow the spread of the pandemic when it first broke out, has recently seen numbers climbing rapidly.

On Saturday, the country’s disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 7,830 cases overnight, a new record in Germany. 

Like most countries, Germany has been grappling with how to keep schools and businesses open, while trying to prevent people from coming into close contact with one another.

In total, Germany has registered a total of 356,387 coronavirus cases, though a relatively low 9,767 deaths when compared with other major western European nations.

With the numbers again rising, however, Mrs Merkel urged Germans to avoid unnecessary travel, cancel parties and remain at home whenever it is possible.

‘What brought us so well through the first half year of the pandemic?’ she asked. ‘It was that we stood together and obeyed the rules out of consideration and common sense. 

‘This is the most effective remedy we currently have against the pandemic, and it is more necessary now than ever.’ 

‘We have to go further,’ Merkel said. ‘I appeal to you: meet with fewer people, either at home or outside. Please forsake any journey that is not absolutely essential, every party that is not absolutely essential. Stay at home, where at all possible.’ 

Pictured: People wait outside a Berlin bar displaying a sign with question marks in place of its closing time after a Berlin court suspended an order for bars and restaurants to close from 11pm to 6am

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (pictured) has gone into quarantine after a bodyguard tested positive for Covid-19, joining a number of key European political figures that have come into close contact with the virus

Merkel’s appeal came as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier went into quarantine after a bodyguard tested positive for coronavirus, his office said. Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial, has also been tested and is awaiting the result. 

German leaders have been unable to agree on tougher measures to contain a second wave. Courts in several regions have, meanwhile, overturned bans on hotel stays for visitors from infection hotspots.

Politicians and health experts have appealed to the public to take voluntary measures over and above those already prescribed – including wearing masks, social distancing and hand washing. 

Merkel’s comments come the day after a Berlin court suspended an order for bars and restaurants to close from 11pm to 6am after finding that ‘it was not apparent’ such a measure could help fight coronavirus.

Ruling on a case brought by 11 restaurant owners, the administrative court noted that new infections in Germany currently stem from private gatherings of family and friends, at community facilities, meat-processing plants, religious gatherings or in connection with travel.

Closing food and drink establishments was therefore a ‘disproportionate encroachment on the freedom’ of the industry, the court ruled.

German authorities must now decide if they want to take the issue to a higher court to force bars and restaurants to close. 

Meanwhile, Europe surpassed 150,000 daily cases on Friday – just a week after reporting 100,000 cases in one day for the first time.

The unwanted milestone comes as new restrictions went into effect in several other European nations in an effort to staunch the resurgence of the pandemic. 

On Friday, the World Health Organisation warned that intensive care units in a number of European cities could reach maximum capacity in the coming weeks if the number of infections is not slowed. 

In Paris and eight other French cities, restaurants, bars, movie theatres and other establishments were being forced to close no later than 9pm to try to reduce contact among people.

The country is deploying 12,000 extra police officers to enforce the new rules as many restaurant owners bristle at the order. An earlier months-long lockdown devastated the sector.

‘I have the right to question the government’s approach, I think it’s a catastrophic measure for the industry,’ said Xavier Denamur, who owns Les Philosophes and several other bistros in Paris’s chic Le Marais district, saying that if nothing else, the curfew should be 11 p.m.

‘At least that would not destroy us,’ he said. ‘There’s no evidence that this difference of a couple of hours will have any effect on the virus circulating.’ 

On Saturday, the French health ministry also reported a record number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 32,427, after reporting 25,086 on Friday.

The total number of infections since the start of the year now stands at 867,197 while the total number of deaths stands at 33,392, up by 90 from Friday.

In Paris and eight other French cities, restaurants, bars, movie theatres and other establishments were being forced to close no later than 9pm. Pictured: People spend time in a restaurant in Paris ahead of the 9pm curfew

A street lies empty in Paris after the 9pm curfew in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus

On Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce another set of measures to counter the new wave of COVID-19 cases, his office said, after the country registered a new daily record in infections on Saturday.

Conte’s office said the government is discussing new restrictions with local and health authorities, aiming to stem contagion while limiting the impact on individuals and businesses.

The country is reportedly considering imposing a nationwide curfew and closing high schools, with officials set to meet on Saturday evening to discuss the measure, which would see cafes and restaurants close from 10pm. 

Cinemas could also be closed, and football matches – both professional and amateur – are expected to be banned under the measures, while only emergency and essential travel will be allowed. 

Italy was the first major European country to be hit by COVID-19 and had managed to get the outbreak under control by the summer thanks to a rigid two-month lockdown on business and people’s movement. But infections have soared in recent weeks.

The country posted 10,925 new infections on Saturday, according to the health ministry, its highest daily tally so far, up from the previous record of 10,010 cases posted on Friday.

People sit at a bar by the Colosseum lighten up for the 75th anniversary of the FAO (food and agricolture Organization) in central Rome on October 16. Residents in Rome fear a return to the strict country-wide restrictions that were imposed when the virus was spreading out of control

Government ministers have ruled out a repeat of the lockdown imposed at the start of the crisis but officials have looked at a range of alternative measures to reduce social contact.

The head of the northwestern region of Liguria, Giovanni Toti, said on Facebook the government would urge schools to alternate between online and in-person lessons and tell companies to increase remote working.

The government has already toughened restrictions twice in 10 days, making wearing masks mandatory outside the home and imposing limitations on public gatherings, restaurants, sports, and some school activities, with schools in some areas already closing, sparking protests.

According to Italian newspapers, the new restrictions could also target non-essential activities including gyms, pools and amateur sporting events. 

Pictured: Parents, children and teachers gathered to protest against the schools closure and call for the reopening of all schools in the Campania Region

President of the Campania Region Vincenzo De Luca ordered the closure of schools of all levels and universities throughout the region. The reason for this decision is the growing number of Covid-19 positives throughout the Campania region

In the Vatican, officials said someone who lives in the same Vatican hotel as Pope Francis tested positive for coronavirus, adding to the 11 cases of Covid-19 among the Swiss Guards who protect him. 

The hotel serves as a residence for Vatican-based priests as well as visiting clerics and lay people. Francis chose to live there permanently after his 2013 election, shunning the Apostolic Palace, because he said he needed to be around ordinary people. The hotel has a communal dining room and chapel where Francis celebrates Mass each morning.

The Vatican, a tiny city state in the center of Rome, has beefed up its anti-COVID-19 measures amid a resurgence of the outbreak in Italy. Protective masks are required indoors and out, but Francis has largely shunned them even when holding audiences with the public.

At 83 and with part of a lung removed when he was in his 20s due to illness, the pope would be at high-risk for COVID-19 complications.

Last week, the Vatican confirmed a cluster of 11 cases among the Swiss Guards who serve as ceremonial guards at papal Masses, guard the Vatican City gates and protect the pope. 

Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where the European coronavirus outbreak began in late February, has taken new measures to contain rebounding infections, limiting bar service and alcohol sales, banning contact sports and closing bingo parlours.

Someone who lives in the same Vatican hotel as the Pope (pictured left) tested positive for the coronavirus, officials confirmed today

The regional government also called for high schools to adopt hybrid schedules, with students alternating in-person with online learning.

The measures were taken after Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region, once again become the most affected in the Covid-19 resurgence, adding more than 2,000 infections a day. Hospitals are coming under strain and intensive care units are filling up.

The new measures allow only table service for bars from 6pm, ban takeout alcohol sales from that time and prohibit all consumption of drink in public spaces, an effort to eliminate crowds from forming in piazzas with takeout drinks.

Italy’s other hardest-hit region, southern Campania, has taken similarly strict measures, including a shutdown of schools for two weeks. After parents protested, the regional governor backed off on Friday and allowed daycare centres to remain open.

In the capital, Rome, residents grumbled as numbers climbed, fearing a return to the strict country-wide restrictions that were imposed when the virus was spreading out of control.

‘The situation is critical thanks to the morons, because I call them morons, who have not respected the rules,’ said resident Mario Massenzi.

‘And if we fall back into the same situation as in March, we are finished.’  

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