COPENHAGEN – Sweden's prime minister has gone into protective self-isolation after a person close to him came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, as Sweden experiences a fall surge of coronavirus infections.
Stefan Lofven broke the news on Facebook on Thursday, when the Scandinavian country passed the threshold of 6,000 overall coronavirus deaths.
“The developments are going in the wrong direction fast. More are infected. More die. This is a serious situation,” he wrote.
“On the doctor’s advice, my wife Ulla and I will stay isolated for the time being,” Lofven wrote. “We are fine and have no symptoms. In accordance with recommendations from health officials, we will take a coronavirus test as soon as possible.”
“This is the only responsible thing to do in this situation,” he added, saying the person close to him had been in contact with another person who had tested positive.
Earlier this year, when European nations locked down to fight the virus, Sweden drew worldwide attention by keeping schools, gyms and restaurants open and not requiring people to wear masks. But now that daily new infections are on the rise again, Swedes may not have had much practice in making sacrifices for the national good.
In recent weeks, the government has ruled that a maximum of eight people can be seated at a restaurant together. It has also rolled out local restrictions — urging people to avoid crowded places, avoid public transportation and work from home if possible — that now affect seven in 10 Swedes.
“The Swedish population must understand that what happens in Europe, can, of course, also happen here. We see an increase (in new cases) that we must deal with,” Health Minister Lena Hallgren said. “Now what is important is to understand what the purpose is ... which is to stop a pandemic."
At first, the Nordic country of 10 million people had some of the lowest numbers of new coronavirus cases. However, the latest figures tell a different story.
For the week beginning Oct. 19, Sweden reported 9,165 new infections, an increase of 63% compared to the previous week and the highest number of cases seen so far in one week, according to Sweden's Public Health Agency.
Overall, Sweden reported another 4,034 infections Thursday, and 141,764 in total, and five more deaths that brought the overall toll to 6,002.
In comparison, neighboring Denmark has had 50,530 cases and 729 deaths and Norway, which shares a more than 1,600-kilometer (994-mile) border with Sweden, has recorded 21,954 cases and only 282 deaths.
As to the two-week cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000, Sweden has 293, Denmark 233 and Norway 97.3. The corresponding number of deaths is 0.7 in Sweden and Denmark, and 0.1 in Norway.
Experts say all reported numbers understate the true toll of the pandemic, due to missed cases, limited testing and other factors.