Sweden records first week with no excess mortality since pandemic struck

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden last week recorded no excess mortality compared to the average of the past five years for the first time since COVID-19 struck a country whose death toll in the pandemic has eclipsed that of its neighbours, statistics showed on Monday.

Preliminary data from Statistics Sweden showed the country registered 1,524 deaths last week, slightly lower than the average for 2015–2019, which was 1,569 deaths.

“That is the first week since the corona outbreak that has happened,” Statistics Sweden said in a statement, adding the deaths might still be revised up to show a slight excess mortality.

The agency said the only demographic with excess mortality in Sweden last week were people aged 90 and above.

While Sweden had a high number of reported deaths in COVID-19 in May - according to some measures suffering the highest number of deaths per capita in Europe for during parts of the month - statistics have showed that the excess mortality has declined.

At the height of the pandemic so far, in early April, 2,500 people died during a single week, far above average. April was also the deadliest month, adjusted for population since 2000, when Sweden had a bad flu season.

Unlike most other countries in western Europe, Sweden opted against a full lockdown, keeping most schools and nearly all businesses open while seeking to leverage mostly voluntary restrictions and recommendations on social distancing.

The approach has divided opinion with criticism focusing on the relatively high number of deaths in the disease, especially among nursing home residents. Sweden registered 35 new deaths on Monday, taking the total to 4,694.

Sweden’s has recorded COVID-19 deaths many times higher per capita than the rest of the Nordic countries combined, but also far lower than those of hard-hit countries such as Britain, Italy and Spain.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard