People walk past a trash can with a sign reading ‘The danger is not over – Keep your distance’ in Uppsala – CLAUDIO BRESCIANI /AFP
One of Sweden’s most populous regions has declared a “personal lockdown”, as the country reported the highest daily rate of daily coronavirus cases in Europe, and more being treated in intensive care for the virus than at its second wave peak.
In posters and an online campaign, the region centred on Uppsala, Sweden’s fourth biggest city, called on everyone to “consider all human contacts as a potential risk” and avoid contact with anyone they do not live with, in the closest the country has come to a lockdown since the pandemic began.
“We are reaching the point of the maximum capacity of what we can handle,” Mikael Köhler, the region’s health chief told Sweden’s TT newswire. “It seems like the British variant has taken over and there’s evidence that people are spreading the disease before they have any symptoms.”
Sweden on Tuesday had the highest rate of new coronavirus cases in Europe, with a seven-day average of 587 new infections per million people on Monday, more than France on 556 and Poland on 540, according to the latest figures on Our World in Data.
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The country currently has 395 patients being treated in intensive care, overtaking the 392 being treated at the peak of the second wave in January, although still below the 558 treated at the peak of the first wave.
Sweden has gradually tightened restrictions since the second wave took off in October, with pubs and restaurants forced to close by 8pm, visitor limits at shops, gyms and museums, and a recommendation to wear face masks in public transport during rush hour.
But it has never imposed more thoroughgoing lockdown measures employed in France, the UK, or its neighbours Denmark and Norway, with the country’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell arguing that lockdown measures were not sustainable in the long run.
This is not the first time Uppsala has pushed for heavier restrictions. At the start of Sweden’s second wave in November, Fredrik Sund, the doctor who heads the region’s main infectious diseases clinic, called on national television for a full “lockdown on society”, dismissing the country’s largely voluntary restrictions as “toothless”.
People board a local bus in central Uppsala – Claudio Bresciani/Shutterstock
At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr Tegnell said that Uppsala’s lockdown call, which is not backed up by any new legal restrictions, was little different from the national approach, but understandable given that the region has recorded 908 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks, compared to 772 nationally.
“Basically, Uppsala’s saying what we all are saying. You need to cut down on your personal contacts as much as possible, especially people that you don’t normally meet,” he said. “Since they have such a difficult situation they need to enforce it even more…We’ll see how useful it is.”
He insisted that additional restrictions, such as shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms, and non-essential shops would have only “an extremely marginal effect”.
“The reason that we are not putting in place additional restrictions is that we have the most important restrictions in place,” he said.
“There are no possible new restrictions that could have more effect than the ones we already have. What’s important… is that we follow them. That’s how we will break the spread of infection.”