Stockholm shuts field hospital as pandemic slowly eases grip on capital

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A field hospital hastily constructed to ease the burden on Stockholm hospitals dealing with a flood of COVID-19 cases will be dismantled in the wake of slowdown in the pandemic, a healthcare official said on Thursday.

The field hospital, located in a convention complex south of the city centre, opened in early April amid fears the region’s hospitals would be overwhelmed with patients as the novel coronavirus rapidly spread across the capital.

Bjorn Eriksson, regional healthcare director in Stockholm, told a news conference the decision to close the field hospital was arrived as demands for care had eased somewhat in the region, which has been the epicentre for the outbreak in Sweden.

The number of new COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Sweden has been trending down since April. On Wednesday, 308 were receiving treatment with ventilators compared with 372 two weeks earlier and hospitals have spare capacity, healthcare authorities say.

Eriksson said the field hospital had not needed to take in patients since the region’s regular hospitals had been able to increase capacity more than healthcare officials had initially thought feasible.

The region said in a statement intensive care capacity had nearly quadrupled in recent months. “When healthcare was most burdened, more than 1,100 patients with COVID-19 needed hospital treatment. On June 3, the corresponding number was 634 patients,” it said, referring to general as well as intensive care hospitalisations.

In its efforts to slow the outbreak, Sweden avoided a strict lockdown such as those seen in many other European countries, choosing a strategy based largely on voluntary measures while keeping most schools and nearly all businesses open.

It has faced growing criticism over a high death rate from COVID-19 when compared to its Nordic neighbours, especially among the elderly. Roughly half of the around 4,500 deaths in COVID-19 in Sweden have been in elderly care homes.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Niklas Pollard