Sweden no longer has intensive care beds and may have to seek help from neighboring countries, warned a top medical professional.
Intensive care units in Stockholm, which were hardest hit during the country’s second wave, reached 99 percent capacity this week – with just seven beds left.
Now, Sten Rubertsson, head of the Swedish Health and Welfare Agency, has warned that the country without lockdown may have to seek help from neighbors like Finland, which has taken advantage of lockdowns.
Sweden has been badly hit by a second wave of coronavirus (7-day mean new cases, see figure), and intensive care units in large cities like Stockholm are now struggling
Deaths in Sweden have remained below their first wave peak, but if the ICU beds run out the total could soar as doctors are forced to decide which patients to rescue
According to the newspaper Aftonbladet, Sweden has around 700 intensive care beds.
While Sweden did not exceed this capacity, Rubertsson pointed out that the beds are spread out across the country.
That means that in cities like Stockholm that have been badly hit, hospitals are working on their border.
Other cities badly affected are Malmö and Gothenburg, both in the south.
Sten Rubertsson has warned that Sweden may have to seek help from Finland if the situation worsens
Finland previously promised to help Sweden cope with its outbreak. Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said in the summer: “Finland is ready to help in any way possible.
‘With intensive care, with testing capacity, with everything we can. We’re here for you.’
Sweden has avoided lockdowns and wearing masks throughout the panemic in favor of an easy response, including advice on social distancing.
Virus expert Anders Tegnell had previously predicted that avoiding lockdown would better prepare Sweden for winter due to natural herd immunity that had built up in the population.
In fact, Sweden was hit particularly hard by the second wave of the coronavirus and at one point had the fastest growing outbreak in any of Europe.
The 7-day average of new coronavirus cases in the country is now 5,700, having doubled since November 11.
In total, it has suffered more than 300,000 cases and 7,000 deaths. By comparison, Finland has only suffered 30,000 cases and 400 deaths.
Sweden has taken a largely lock-free approach to tackling the pandemic (see figure), while Finland has taken tough measures to keep the outbreak under control
Those numbers have forced Swedes to back out, put in night curfews and ban large gatherings.
Last week the health department issued new guidelines for people to follow over Christmas, including restricting social interaction to a “bubble” of eight, meeting outdoors as much as possible, and avoiding public transport.
The government will now text every phone number in Sweden with a link to the guidelines to make sure they are being followed.
Swedish Interior Minister Mikael Damberg told reporters, “The recommendations are not tips for the public – they should be followed.”
Denmark and Norway also border Sweden and have both used lockdowns to control their virus outbreaks.
Denmark has suffered a total of 100,000 cases of coronavirus with 900 deaths, and Norway has suffered 40,000 cases and fewer than 400 deaths.