Sweden recorded 172 new coronavirus deaths and 682 new cases today on one of its bleakest days since the crisis began.
The 172 new deaths are the second-largest jump on record, behind only yesterday’s figure of 185 which came after a weekend backlog.
It brings the Swedish death toll from 1,765 to 1,937, far higher than in Denmark (384), Norway (169) or Finland (149).
Another 682 infections today bring the total from 15,322 to 16,004 in the biggest daily rise for nearly two weeks, according to official figures.
Nonetheless, health officials believe that the virus may have reached its peak in the Stockholm region, which accounts for more than a third of Sweden’s cases.
This graph shows the daily number of new infections in Sweden. Today’s figure of 682 is the highest since April 9 and the third-highest on record
This chart shows the daily number of deaths, which has fluctuated considerably because of delays in announcing weekend figures. Today’s figure is 172
As many as one-third of Stockholm’s population may already have had the virus by May 1, experts predict, possibly limiting the spread of the disease.
Modelling suggests that the rate of new infections peaked in Stockholm in April 15, although that has not yet become visible in the numbers of reported cases.
‘Already a bit more than a week ago, the peak was reached, at least according to this model, and we can expect fewer cases each day,’ Anders Wallensten, deputy state epidemiologist at the agency, told reporters at a daily news briefing.
‘But you also have to remember … that two-thirds have not been infected and can still get it,’ Wallensten added.
The World Health Organisation has warned that it remains uncertain whether everyone becomes immune after having the virus once.
Stockholm also accounts for 1,070 of the country’s 1,937 total deaths, according to official figures.
Wallensten said it was too early to say when the number of fatalities in Stockholm would start to decline.
‘The curve for the number of new cases hasn’t started to decline yet, either, so we are not there yet,’ he said.
People sit outdoors at a restaurant in Stockholm yesterday, with Sweden holding out against imposing the kind of lockdown that most of Europe has enforced
The time lag between infection and death means that a slowdown in new cases will usually take longer to show up in the fatality figures.
Wallensten said the advantage of Sweden’s low-key approach to the virus is that advisory measures can be kept in place for longer than total lockdowns.
Sweden has not imposed a lockdown like most of Europe has done, meaning that bars, restaurants, shops and schools are still open.
Gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned along with visits to nursing homes, but otherwise social distancing is advised rather than enforced.
While some countries are beginning to ease the most restrictive measures, Wallensten said it was too early for Sweden to change course.
‘We are looking at when it will be possible to ease different restrictions and which will be eased first, but as we see it, we are on a plateau, the danger isn’t over,’ he said.
Sweden has far more deaths than Denmark, Norway and Finland, a difference that is not adequately explained by the size of their populations.
Finland has imposed checks on usually free-flowing border traffic at its frontier with Sweden, fearing the spread of the disease.
People sit outside in warm spring weather in Stockholm yesterday while others walk and cycle by in a scene which has become a thing of the past in most of Europe
Sweden insists that its strategy is right because people need to ‘understand and accept’ measures over the long term rather than be forced into obeying them.
‘If everyone takes their responsibility, together we will overcome it,’ says Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
Officials say that ‘people in Sweden have a high level of trust in government agencies’, meaning that advisory measures are widely followed.
‘In the current situation, people in Sweden are on the whole acting responsibly to reduce the spread of infection by, for example, restricting their social contacts,’ the government says.
Still, ministers have promised a huge increase in testing so that people in key roles such as police and healthcare personnel can be screened for the virus.
‘We are talking about testing and analysis capacity of 50,000, perhaps as many as 100,000, a week,’ health minister Lena Hallengren said.
So far almost 75,000 people have been tested in Sweden, Hallengren said last week.