Research by the Swedish public health agency comes as figures suggest that the country’s per capita mortality rate was the highest in Europe in the seven days before May 19.
Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said the antibody count was “a bit lower than we thought”, but added that it reflected the situation three weeks ago and he thought that ‘to date’ just over 20% ‘of Stockholm’s population has probably contracted the virus.
However, the public health agency had previously said it expected around 25% to be infected by May 1 and Tom Britton, a math teacher who helped develop his forecasting model, said the study figure was surprising.
“It means that the calculations made by the agency and myself are completely wrong, which is possible, but if so, it is surprising that they are so wrong,” he said. told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. “Or more people have been infected than antibodies developed. “
Björn Olsen, professor of infectious medicine at the University of Uppsala, said that collective immunity was a “dangerous and unrealistic” approach. “I think collective immunity is far away, if we ever reach it,” he said after the release of the antibody results.
Tegnell denied that collective immunity is a goal in itself, saying that Sweden’s strategy is rather to slow the spread of the virus enough for the country’s health services to cope. But he also said that countries that impose strict bans may be more susceptible to a second wave of infections, as a smaller percentage of their populations would be immune.
In April, authorities estimated that a third of Stockholm residents developed antibodies to the coronavirus in early May, subsequently suggesting that the capital could achieve collective immunity of 40% to 60% by then. mid-June.
Relying on citizens to act responsibly, Sweden closed secondary schools and banned gatherings of more than 50 people, but asked – rather than ordering – people to avoid non-essential displacement, to work from home and stay at home if they are elderly or sick. Shops, restaurants and gymnasiums remained open.
Polls show that a large majority of Swedes generally support and comply with their government’s more relaxed and less coercive strategy, which stands in stark contrast to the strict restrictions imposed by many EU countries.
Google records suggest that trips to shops and cafes by residents of the Stockholm area have decreased from 20% to 40%, while the number of passengers on public transport has dropped from 30% to 40%.
But the approach has been strongly criticized by some Swedish academics because the number of coronavirus deaths in the country has increased, far exceeding that of its northern neighbors.
While the overall death rate from coronavirus per million is higher in Italy (535), Spain (597) or the United Kingdom (538), Sweden (376) is far ahead of Norway (44), Denmark (96) and Finland (55) – countries with similar social and demographic protection systems, but which have imposed strict restrictions.
According to online scientific publication Ourworldindata.com, Covid-19 deaths in Sweden were the highest in Europe per capita on a seven-day moving average between May 12 and May 19. The country’s 6.25 deaths per million people per day were just above the 5.75 in the UK.
The World Health Organization has warned of the hope of immunizing herds as a means of containing the coronavirus, saying last week that global studies had found antibodies in only 1% to 10% of population.
Critics like Olsen say Sweden has done “too little, too late” and note that the government’s laissez-faire approach has been devastating for the elderly, with almost half of the country’s 3,831 deaths so far. now in nursing homes.
Tegnell’s predecessor as chief epidemiologist, Annika Linde, told Dagens Nyheter this week that the country’s nursing home strategy had been “completely inadequate. The problems were underestimated. It was a manifest error of judgment. “
Public health agency executive director Johan Carlson also described the number of deaths in a nursing home as a tragedy. “The social protection system was not sufficiently prepared and not robust enough,” he said in an interview with the newspaper Aftonbladet.
Linde also said that after the fact, she was beginning to doubt Sweden’s strategy in general. “I think it is starting to look like the Swedish model which may not have been the smartest in all respects,” she said, urging in particular a major expansion of testing and tracing.
The government has recognized serious shortcomings in nursing homes and announced this month a large increase in funding for the sector, but remains convinced that the relatively high number of deaths per capita in the country is not a consequence of its decision not to impose a lock.