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IN NUMBERS: Excess mortality in Sweden during pandemic now lower than most in Europe

Sweden this week reported the highest daily number of confirmed cases so far. But its rate of excess mortality during the pandemic is now less than most other countries in Europe.

IN NUMBERS: Excess mortality in Sweden during pandemic now lower than most in Europe
A Covid-19 test centre in Stockholm. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
Sweden on Thursday set a new Covid-19 record, registering 23,877 cases. This came just two days after the last record was set, with the 17,457 cases recorded on Tuesday. Daily reported cases are now at around double where they were at Sweden’s previous Covid peak on 23 December 2020, when the previous record of 11,376 daily cases was set. 
Source: Swedish Public Health Agency
While the number of confirmed cases per capita is extremely high, Sweden is by no means an outlier in Europe, with many other countries reporting higher rates over the past seven days. 
The high case rates in Sweden have also, so far, not led to a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 patients being treated in intensive care in Swedish hospitals.
According to the database kept by public broadcaster SVT, which collects information from official sources, there were 834 patients being treated in hospital (but not in intensive care wards) on Thursday. That is up from 610 on January 1st, and up from 485 patients the week before. But it is well below the number the peak of the second wave at around the same time last year, when hospitals had more than 2,600 Covid patients. 
The number of daily new admissions to intensive care units is also at more or less the same level reported at the end of December. 
According to SVT’s database, there were 106 patients being treated for Covid-19 in intensive care on Saturday, January 8th, 15 fewer than the 121 being treated on January 3rd, and well below the first wave peak of 558 recorded at the end of April in 2020. 
Compared to most other European countries, the number of people being treated in hospital for Covid-19 in Sweden remains low, with only Austria, The Netherlands, and Norway reporting a lower per capita hospitalisation rate.   
When it comes to the number of deaths with Covid-19 over the past seven days, Sweden is in an even better position. In the week running up to and including Friday 7 January, Sweden had the lowest number of confirmed deaths per million people in Europe. 
This follows a pattern seen since early last year.
By the end of October 2020, Sweden had one of the highest Covid death rates in Europe, behind only Belgium, Spain, the UK, and Italy. 
But Sweden’s death rate was relatively low throughout the second half of last year, meaning its cumulative Covid-19 death rate over the pandemic is now lower than those of most countries in Europe. 
When you look at total excess mortality — the cumulative difference between the reported number of deaths since 1 January 2020 and the projected number of deaths for the same period based on previous years — Sweden now has one of the lowest rates in Europe. 

Member comments

  1. I feel like the true comparison should be with Finland, Norway and Denmark. When you compare with those countries Sweden isn’t near the bottom, it’s first place in a race you don’t want to win.

    Someone here want to defend Sweden’s response in light of the graphs?

    1. I agree. The question remains: who determined the policy, what was the policy, and why was it followed. Not facing this with honesty will lead to future problems.

    2. Yup this is completely right, as that comparison takes into account similar economies, climates, social policies & population density/behaviours.

      When you take this comparison it is very evident Sweden has had a very different approach to handling the pandemic: Prioritising maintaining the lifestyles of the majority of citizens over the health of those most in need of help.

      The notion Sweden is one of the ‘best performing’ countries in Europe, given its’ small population, high level of public spending per capitia, is so infuriating.

      Comparisons like the ones in this article feed into a false narrative that no more could have been done to help, in a country where people still won’t wear face masks to stop the spread of the disease to those it could seriously harm.

      As a society Sweden could and should have done much more to protect the most vulnerable people.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.