Sweden coronavirus press conference, March 25, 2020

Another day, another press conference on coronavirus from Sweden.

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Press conference of the Swedish public health officials, March 25, 2020

They had 2510 cases in Sweden at this point, and 42 deaths. There were about 375,000 cases worldwide.

The press conference started with the national epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, who I think was more interested in talking about the USA than anything else. He says: the US has a big potential for many cases; in the US, a lot is happening very quickly.

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Anders Tegnell

As for Sweden, says Anders Tegnell, we have a pretty stable situation here in Sweden. Here’s the PowerPoint slide he showed of new cases per day, up to that day:

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Cases of coronavirus per day in Sweden, March 25, 2020

Tegnell further said: from the doctors on the ground, we hear that there’s pressure in Stockholm; and some pressure even in the other cities. But elsewhere it’s pretty calm. He repeats, we still have a pretty stable situation.

Further from Tegnell: We still have a lot of cases aged 50-59. We think it’s still because those people recently returned from traveling. We don’t have a lot of old people (aged 70+) sick.

Then Tegnell turned the topic over to testing for the virus. Some people have asked, why is there so little testing in Sweden? Well, says Tegnell, we are testing more and more every week. We have lots of labs willing to test, but it seems there’s a bottleneck among medical people in having the time to test so many and then properly send in the tests to the labs. At this point in the epidemic, they don’t want to just go out in society and test whoever, because there’s no point.

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Weekly tests of coronavirus in Sweden

And Tegnell reiterates the main strategies that they are focused on to slow the spread: stay home if you’re sick. Re-think your trips. Don’t visit your old relatives. It’s good to work from home, but make sure to talk to your boss that it’s not disrupting the work.

Then it was the turn of Taha Alexandersson to speak:

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Taha Alexandersson

She says: We are working well with the military on distributing equipment (?), and they already had good collaboration built up between the medical sector and the army sector so it’s been going great. At this point, we’re not in such a crisis where we have to worry about medical staff working without proper protection.

An American named Frank asks a question. This man works for Radio Sweden, and I’m sorry, but hes clearly annoying, unfortunately. He also mispronounces Anders’ name.

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Frank from Radio Sweden

Frank asks (in English): Sweden is relying on people taking personal responsibility and following recommendations. Some people are saying that’s not enough and that stricter enforcement is needed. Based on what you’re hearing and seeing, are recommendations enough, or do you want more enforcement?

Anders Tegnell (answers in English): so far, we are happy with what we are hearing. I mean, a lot of people and organizations are finding innovative ways to avoid contact. We can look at the infection curves. They’re not going up in a catastrophic manner. We are happy with it so far. We do believe that we can continue this way, which is how we normally work in Swedish communicable disease control, with voluntary measures. People are very responsible. They are taking correct decisions most of the time. We will see what happens in the future if we need more enforcement. And we will follow the outlook and progress in other countries with more enforcement: does that enforcement really make a difference, or is what we are doing now here in Sweden just as good, or maybe even better, rather than trying to force people to do things?

It has to be stated, Anders Tegnell looked quite pleased with himself giving this answer.

Then it’s the turn of a German journalist to ask a question, but he manages to do it Swedish: In Germany there’s a lot more restrictions. And one big point of difference is the infectiousness of people without symptoms. In Germany, we’re discussing about a scientific study from Hong Kong University that 30-40% of people are infectious before they show any symptoms. Of course, this is just one study out of many, but you all here say that, no, you become infectious after you display symptoms. So can you clarify what you think about this? Have you heard about this research out of Hong Kong?

Anders Tegnell: yes, I’ve heard of it, but they’re not actually talking about asymptomatic people, they’re talking about undocumented cases: people who had symptoms but weren’t sick enough to go to the hospital. We ask that people even with very, very mild symptoms of illness — who wouldn’t at all consider needing to go to the hospital — to stay at home. Those people are indeed infectious. As you say, there is certainly also a risk of infection from people completely without symptoms. But that’s very low compared to risk of infection from people with symptoms. What we are now trying to do is not to stop the infection completely. That’s not possible. This illness is here to say. But we are trying to keep the infection rate as low as possible with reasonable measures, so we can flatten our curve, so we can have a situation that the hospitals are able to cope with. And our evaluation is that this is possible to do by isolating people with symptoms. This is our thinking and strategy.

German journalist: But there was another study that showed << something something, starts describing details >>

Anders Tegnell interrupts: oh, I’ve seen that study, too, our statisticians are looking into it, but it was a very small study, it’s very hard also to assume that << something something >> … there’s a lot in that study that one could discuss about whether or not  << something something >>

After that was over, the people at the podium switched positions with a new group, and the press conference continued. This time, the representatives were all from civil society, as opposed to the public health people who had just had their turn:

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Civil society representatives in Sweden

They talked about civil society and helping people. This is enormous, one of them  proclaimed. We’ve had a social mobilization. There’s lots of entities involved: the municipalities, the national sports club (?), Swedish Red Cross, Save the Children, the Swedish Church, and Sweden’s << something >>. So a couple of them spoke, but it was kind of boring.

Then it was back briefly to the studio with the lady who was the chief anchor:

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And then they went back again to the room with the press conference, to do an interview with Anders Tegnell.

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Anders Tegnell said: We want to keep this stable situation as long as possible. Every day we win now, that means that when the curve starts to go up, which it will, it will be flatter and have a lower peak.

The correspondent asks: Where on this curve are we now?

Tegnell: well, we are still quite far down on it. We’re not up on the steep part. And hopefully, if everything goes as we hope it will, we will stay on the flatter curve and it will go better than seen in some other countries.

Correspondent: You pointed the US out as a critical area. Explain.

Tegnell: well, you see a very quick increase. Already lots of deaths and lots of people in intensive care. It might even be a little late to take control now. We shall see.

Correspondent: Norway has decided to close schools. Have you seen if that’s stopped the spread?

Tegnell: it’s too soon to say. It’s only been 1 week since they closed the schools. And there’s no big difference in their coronavirus case increase compared to other Nordic countries. We’d need lots of weeks to be able to draw conclusions.

And Tegnell closes by saying: If we start to see locations with lot of new cases here in Sweden, then we would look into additional measures to take. But on a national level, the most important things are the things we’ve already talked about. It looks like we’ve been successful so far, we have a pretty flat curve and now it’s just a matter of hanging in there with the measures: stay home if you’re sick, work from home when possible, and protect the old.

Then it was back to the studio, and this reporter gave some summary:

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Tomas Eriksson, SVT reporter in Sweden

Reporter: We are quite early on the curve. We don’t have the steep rise as seen in Italy or Spain, and earlier in China. I get a feel that there’s quite good monitoring/control right now.

And because they can’t help themselves, they had to finish by talking about the US: yes, there’s a worrying situation there. But also, we hear that Congress came up with a rescue package, $2 trillion, that amount of money is hard to even wrap your head around.

And they talked about the different pots of money from the overall package being distributed to families, corporations, or hospitals.

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