Sweden reported a record 170 new coronavirus deaths today in a widely-expected surge after the Easter weekend.
The 170 new deaths – surpassing yesterday’s joint-record 114 – bring the death toll from 1,033 to 1,203 in a country still refusing to go into lockdown.
Only a handful of deaths had been recorded on Saturday and Sunday, meaning that the numbers were always likely to shoot up when the weekend was properly accounted for.
The number of infections rose by 482, a less striking increase which brings the overall tally from 11,445 to 11,927.
Sweden added 170 coronavirus deaths to its official tally today in a widely-expected surge after only a handful of cases were reported over the weekend, as shown on this graph
This graph shows the daily number of infections. Today’s figure of 482 was similar to that in the previous two days
Swedish officials had announced only 17 new deaths on Saturday, an implausibly low figure after an average jump of 94 during the week.
Health officials now say that 50 deaths were registered on Saturday, but many of them have not been revealed until after Easter.
Similarly, the 12 new deaths announced on Sunday were only a fraction of the 54 people who are now said to have died that day.
Many countries have experienced delays in reporting weekend figures, a problem exacerbated this week by the long Easter break.
Spain has typically seen a rise in reported new cases on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, once the weekend has been fully accounted for.
Sweden is continuing to hold out against a lockdown, making it an outlier in Europe where most countries have imposed heavy restrictions.
Bars and restaurants are still open in Sweden along with primary schools, and public gatherings of 50 people are still permissible.
Shops are also open, subject to social distancing rules, but the government has faced mounting criticism from doctors and academics for its light-touch policy.
A group of 22 doctors, virologists and researchers criticised the Public Health Agency in an op-ed published by Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Tuesday.
They accused it of having failed to draw up a proper strategy, pointing out that the mortality rate in Sweden was now way above that of its Nordic neighbours.
People enjoy the sunny weather in Stockholm on Saturday, sitting outdoors at a restaurant in a type of gathering which has been banned in most of Europe for weeks
People sit outdoors over the Easter weekend in Stockholm, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the country’s coronavirus cases
The government has emphasised ‘individual responsibility’ and trusted Swedes to obey social distancing guidelines without enforcing them.
‘People in Sweden have a high level of trust in government agencies. This means that a large proportion of people follow government agencies’ advice,’ officials say.
‘In the current situation, people in Sweden are on the whole acting responsibly to reduce the spread of infection by, for example, restricting their social contacts.
‘This crisis may continue for a long time, and in order for the measures to work over time, people need to understand and accept them.’
Nonetheless, Sweden has vowed to spend more than 100billion kronor (£8billion) to address the economic impact of the pandemic.
Despite the lack of a lockdown, the Swedish economy is expected to shrink by around four per cent this year.
Finance minister Magdalena Andersson told SVT that ministers hoped to see the economy improve again before the end of the year.
‘In the forecast we judge that we will see a very sharp downturn in the economy in the first half of the year and that we will then begin to turn upwards, but clearly the crisis can be both deeper and longer than that,’ she said.
Young people sit around a table in central Stockholm over the Easter weekend. The number of reported deaths has risen sharply today after very low figures were released at the weekend
The new measures include subsidies for shorter working hours, tax rebates, loan guarantees and easier rules for claiming benefits.
Local authorities have also been promised billions to meet extra healthcare costs because of the crisis.
‘The measures will give greater security, for those who have been hit by the crisis by limiting the spread of the infection, limit the consequences for companies and jobs and at the same time give economic security and the chance for a new start for those who become unemployed,’ Andersson said.
Around 5,000 of the country’s 11,927 cases are in the Stockholm region, official figures show, although the true figure may be higher.
Random sampling carried out by the public health agency suggests that at least 2.5 per cent of Stockholm residents may already have been infected, implying a much higher figure around 60,000.
The 1,203 deaths are made up of 686 men and 517 women, reflecting a pattern elsewhere which has been widely noted but is little understood.
Experts have suggested poor hygiene, smoking rates and a stronger female immune system as possible reasons why men appear to be more susceptible.