Sweden says Stockholm measures possible as COVID cases rise

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden, which so far has decided against lockdowns as a means to contain COVID-19, is seeing early signs that the number of coronavirus cases are rising again and could impose new measures in the capital, its chief health officials said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A sign promoting social distancing is pictured in the Gallerian shopping center, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Stockholm, Sweden, May 12, 2020. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS

Sweden’s strategy emphasising personal responsibility rather than major lockdowns to slow the virus drew fierce criticism as deaths shot up during the spring, but has also been lauded by WHO officials as a sustainable model.

Infections dropped significantly in the summer and so far Sweden had been spared the type of sharp increases in new cases seen in Spain, France and Britain in the past month.

However, around 1,200 new cases and five deaths have been reported since Friday compared to around 200 cases per day in the last weeks. The increase in new cases cannot solely be explained by increased testing, the Public Health Agency said on Tuesday.

“The rolling average has increased somewhat,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist who devised its pandemic strategy, told a news conference.

“It hasn’t affected the healthcare - yet. The number of new cases at ICU is very low and the number of deaths are very low,” he said.

Tegnell said that new measures for the capital could not be ruled out. “We have a discussion with Stockholm about whether we need to introduce measures to reduce the spread of infection. Exactly what that will be, we will come back to in the next few days,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday Stockholm’s top health official warned that the region saw an increase in cases.

“The downwards trend is broken,” Stockholm Director of Health and Medical Services Bjorn Eriksson told a news conference. “We can only hope that this is a blip, that the spread start decreasing again. That depends on how well we follow the guidelines,” he said.

Sweden has reported 5,870 deaths since the start of the pandemic, many more per capita than its Nordic neighbours but also lower than countries like Spain and Italy that opted for hard lockdowns.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky