‘We need help’: Swedish capital begs rest of country to send medics as hospitals fill with COVID patients

Although Sweden did not enforce a strict lockdown they have been socially distancing since the pandemic began. (Getty)
Although Sweden did not enforce a strict lockdown they have been socially distancing since the pandemic began. (Getty)

Stockholm's health service has appealed to national authorities to send nurses to the city as it struggles to cope with a second wave of COVID infections that has filled intensive care wards in Sweden's capital.

Sweden, which has not opted for the kind of lockdown adopted by many other European nations, has suffered many times more COVID-19 deaths per capita than its Nordic neighbours, with the total reaching almost 7,300 on Wednesday.

Stockholm and the surrounding region are among the areas hardest hit with 2,836 deaths.

Infection rates are picking up again after a lull in the summer and autumn, and intensive care wards are now full.

"We need help," Bjorn Eriksson, the director of healthcare for the Stockholm region, told a news conference.

There were 814 COVID-19 patients being treated in Stockholm hospitals and geriatric wards on Wednesday, up from 748 last Friday, the region said.

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That compares with roughly 1,100 patients during the spring outbreak of the disease.

Eriksson said 83 patients were treated in intensive care in Stockholm.

"That corresponds more or less to all intensive care beds we normally have," he said.

Faced by a surge in new cases in recent weeks, Sweden's government has tightened restrictions on public gatherings while high schools have been told to switch to distance learning for the rest of the term.

On Wednesday, the government said it wanted parliament to grant it more power to implement lockdown measures such as closing shopping malls and gyms.

The strict measures are a change in direction for the country which opted for mostly voluntary measures at the start of the pandemic.

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Many lockdown sceptics pointed to Sweden as an example of a better way to combat the pandemic, one that did not limit personal freedoms as much or cause as much damage to the economy.

Before the second wave hit Europe, Sweden’s death rates were higher than its neighbours Denmark and Norway.

Top Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell initially promoted the light-touch approach to coronavirus restrictions and was a fascination of the western media.

But in recent weeks he has reportedly been sidelined by the Swedish government.

Eriksson called for stricter adherence to the government's guidelines to help relieve the pressure on the healthcare system

Recent media images from Sweden have been full of pictures of crowded shopping streets in the run-up to Christmas which has sparked alarm among health officials..

"Enough is enough. It simply cannot be worth it, to have after-work drinks and hustle of Christmas present shopping, the consequences are horrible," Errikson said.

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