Inside the Swedish city that may prove the country's strategy was right all along
A man has parked his bike and is resting next to a canal in Djurgarden - Shutterstock in sunny weather
There were the same lax restrictions as in the Swedish capital: schools remained open, residents continued to drink in bars and cafes, and the doors of hairdressers and gyms were open throughout the corona virus.
But the Swedish coastal city of Malmo has shown a remarkably different result than Stockholm, with few deaths and a remarkably low mortality rate.
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Now some experts are wondering if the Malmo model proves that Sweden's controversial move to avoid closure was right all the time.
Sweden has been increasingly criticized for its mortality rate. But Skane, the region around Malmo, had only registered 17 deaths per 100,000 population from coronaviruses last week, slightly less than the 19 per 100,000 seen across the Øresund Strait in the capital region of Denmark, although Denmark was heavily blocked for two months from Middle of March.
Almost half of the nearly 5,000 Swedish deaths occurred in Stockholm, which gives the Swedish capital a staggering mortality rate of 95 per 100,000 people.
"It can hardly be explained by different strategies, since we had the same strategy as in the rest of Sweden," argues Per Hagstam, specialist for infectious diseases in Skane, the health authority for the region around Malmö. "The fact that our mortality rates are not higher is due to the fact that the transmission down here was not as extensive."
Part of the reason for this is the different dates for spring sports holidays in the two cities in late February and early March, when around one million people, one tenth of the Swedish population, traveled abroad.
While Stockholmer traveled to the ski areas of Italy and Austria, London and elsewhere during the week of peak transmission between February 24 and March 1, Malmöers vacationed a decisive week earlier and also made fewer international trips.
Hagstam believes Skane's health agency may also have been more successful than Stockholm's to track and isolate the contacts of those who tested positive in late February and early March.
As a result, cases occurred earlier in Stockholm, which meant that local health authorities and nursing homes had less time to take measures to protect older people.
"I think one explanation could be that we had more time to prepare than Stockholm: They had a very quick infection," said Gisela Ost, head of geriatric care in Malmö. "I think time is one of the factors that caused us to have fewer infections."
She had time to distribute policies and equipment to the homes she managed in the Malmo area, to end visits, and to rigorously test the nursing home staff who reported the least symptom.
As a result, only 100 of their older clients contracted the virus, with the number of infections peaking at 47 in April. About 20 of her customers have died, while she estimates that 85 percent have now recovered.
Johan Carlson, Director General of the Swedish Health Service, argued last week in an interview with the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Wednesday that the enormous regional differences in Sweden also reflect the spread of the coronavirus in clusters.
"The virus is spreading everywhere and is the same across Europe. In England it is London and in Italy Lombardy, while Rome has been relatively spared," he told the newspaper.
"I have an extremely random spread, super spreads that hit certain areas - not like the flu that sweeps across the continent like a flood."
People enjoy the warm evening in Sundspromenaden in Malmo, Sweden - Shutterstock
It was not just Skane who was hit less than the region across the border, he emphasized. Varmland, the region bordering Oslo, is less affected than the Norwegian side, and Norbotten, Sweden's northernmost region, is less affected than the Finnish border.
But neither Hagstam nor Ost congratulate themselves. Hagstam points out that although Skane did not have the high number of infections and deaths in Stockholm, it did not experience the same peak and decline, but instead saw a consistently low plateau. With less immunity than Stockholm, he fears that Malmo’s climax could still come.
"We have a lot of respect for this virus and don't think we saw the end of the pandemic, although we wanted it to," says Ost. "We have to keep working on the guidelines because we can't say it's over. We don't want to end up like Stockholm."
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