There is little evidence herd immunity is helping Sweden combat the coronavirus, according to the country’s top epidemiologist.
“The issue of herd immunity is difficult,” Anders Tegnell said at a briefing in Stockholm on Tuesday. “We see no signs of immunity in the population that are slowing down the infection right now.”
Swedes have been more exposed to the virus than their neighbors elsewhere in the Nordic region, and every third Stockholmer tested has antibodies, according to figures published this week. That is after the country famously opted against a lockdown, relying instead on voluntary measures.
Tegnell has in the past said herd immunity is hard to measure and even questioned official figures. Swedish authorities have made clear immunity is not a policy goal, but the nation’s exposure to the virus makes it an obvious test case for observing the theory.
Sweden has registered 17,265 new coronavirus cases since Friday, Health Agency statistics showed Tuesday.
The increase compared with 15,084 new cases recorded during the corresponding period last week.
Sweden registered 94 new deaths, taking the total to 6,500. Sweden’s death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors but lower than some larger European countries.
In a recent OECD study, Sweden consistently ranked among the hardest hit nations in Europe, as measured by relative COVID mortality and infection rates. It was also the slowest at containing transmission.
The news comes as the country’s healthcare watchdog issued a condemnation over the mistreatment of senior citizens in healthcare facilities during the pandemic, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported.
The Health and Social Care Inspectorate said “serious flaws” existed even without taking the pandemic into account. Still, nursing homes were hard hit in the initial wave, and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven admitted residents were not properly protected.
Out of 6,500 COVID-releated deaths in Sweden, almost half have been in nursing homes, while a fourth have been of elder people being taken care of at their homes, according to the Mail.
An audit of nursing home facilities from March to June showed one-fifth of all coronavirus patients had been seen by a doctor, and 40% of those cases were seen neither by a doctor nor a nurse.
When an assessment was made, most were over the phone.
“The minimum level (of care) is simply too low, even during a pandemic,” IVO director Sofia Wallstrom said.
Sweden was recently forced to recalibrate its approach against the virus, as the daily case rate topped 7,000. In what Lofven called an “unprecedented” step earlier this month, Swedes will no longer be free to gather in public in groups larger than eight. The sale of alcohol is now also banned after 10 p.m.
Lofven used a rare televised address Sunday to plead with his countrymen to do more.
“The health and lives of people are still in danger, and the danger is increasing,” he said.
The new restrictions come amid warnings Sweden’s intensive care beds are quickly filling up. Meanwhile, authorities in the country are warning against placing too much weight on a possible future vaccine.
“We are still seeing an increase in patients who need care and intensive care,” Thomas Linden, a departmental head at Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, said at Tuesday’s briefing. “One must not take the fact that there is a vaccine a few months away as an indication to be careless with measures.”
“In a third wave, the healthcare system will be even more strained than it has been so far,” he said.
Information from Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.
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