Stockholm could achieve herd immunity by next month, health chief claims

Stockholm could achieve herd immunity by next month, a top health official in Sweden has claimed.

The government has chosen to leave restaurants, cinemas, gyms, pubs, and shops open in the battle against coronavirus – despite calls to follow the rest of Europe and impose a full lockdown.

But the controversial method could soon see so many people immune that transmission of the virus is heavily reduced, according to Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.

Speaking to local media, Dr Tegnell said: ‘We’re still at the level we were at a couple of weeks ago. There was some kind of peak before the Easter weekend, and now there’s some kind of downturn.

‘According to our modellers [at the Public Health Agency of Sweden], we are starting to see so many immune people in the population in Stockholm that it is starting to have an effect on the spread of the infection.

‘Our models point to some time in May. These are mathematical models, they’re only as good as the data we put into them. We will see if they are right.’

Sweden’s death toll currently stands at 1,540, with 14,385 confirmed cases of the illness, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

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Football games have been cancelled, gatherings of more than 50 banned and university buildings closed.

However, based on Dr Tegnell’s advice, the government has urged citizens to take personal responsibility for following physical distancing guidelines rather than strictly enforcing mandatory rules.

Around 50% of the Swedish workforce is now working from home, while public transport has fallen by 50% in Stockholm and the city is around 70% less busy as a whole.

The liberal pandemic strategy has been heavily questioned, with 2,300 academics signing an open letter to the government last month calling for tougher measures to protect the healthcare system.

Critics have also pointed to the rising number of cases in care homes across the country, suggesting the elderly are being sacrificed.

Asked about the death rate, Dr Tegnell said: ‘It is not a failure for the overall strategy, but it is a failure to protect our elderly who live in care homes.’   

At a news conference last week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven also rejected claims that care home cases were evidence of a failing strategy, saying: ‘I don’t think it is a sign of that. This is what things look like around Europe. We have said all along that things will get worse before they get better.’

Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of the microbiology department at Sweden’s Public Health Authority, claimed on Friday that number of cases in the country appeared to be ‘stabilising’.

He told Bloomberg News: ‘The trend we have seen in recent days, with a more flat curve — where we have many new cases, but not a daily increase — is stabilizing. We are seeing the same pattern for patients in intensive care.’

The UK government was forced to deny that herd immunity was part of the country’s plan to fight coronavirus in March, after facing criticism from experts.

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