STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The second wave of COVID-19 infections that has hit Sweden could peak in mid-December, health officials said on Thursday, stressing developments will depend on how well the public follows social distancing advice.
New infections have hit record levels in recent weeks after a lull in the summer, throwing the country’s light-touch approach to fighting the pandemic into renewed focus.
In total, 6,622 people with COVID-19 have died in Sweden, a per capita total vastly higher than neighbours Norway, Denmark and Finland, which opted for stricter lockdowns during the spring, but lower than a handful of larger European nations.
Tougher restrictions in place since mid-October, however, may have helped slow the spread of the disease with the Public Health Agency saying infections could peak in the coming weeks.
“We are optimistic we can affect the development of the pandemic in this way,” Health Agency head Johan Carlson told a news conference.
But he cautioned the modelled scenario by his agency was not a forecast and relied on the public following recommendations. “If we don’t get that as we expect, we won’t have this development, we will have a worse development.”
The agency said the current pace of new cases was lower than that predicted by its model, but that this might reflect an inability of testing, which has been overwhelmed in some regions, to keep up with the spreading virus.
The government has given the agency the task of modelling how the pandemic will develop to help authorities and healthcare services with their planning.
The agency has faced criticism in Swedish media that its previous modelling attempts have been inaccurate, for instance in predicting during that the country would not face a broad second wave of infections during autumn.
The current scenario is based on infections reported between Aug. 24 and Nov. 6 and other variables. Sweden registered 5,841 new cases and 67 deaths on Thursday.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard)