One of Sweden’s most densely populated regions has declared a “personal lockdown” as the country saw its daily rate of coronavirus cases soar.
“We are asking each [individual] to act like they are in a personal lockdown,” Mikael Köhler, health chief of the Swedish region of Uppsala, told Euronews.
Calling the effort an “extraordinary” step, Köhler said officials were asking Uppsala residents to only have close contact "with the people they live with”.
“If they have to meet other people ... everyone has to suspect that everyone they are meeting could be infected,” he said.
Uppsala’s clampdown on coronavirus measures comes as Sweden contends with a surge in COVID-19 cases, which officials have largely blamed on the spread of the UK variant.
On Tuesday, Sweden reported that it had reached a seven-day average of 587 new infections per million people, with the country’s average surpassing that of other countries across the continent, including France and Poland, according to the latest figures from Our World in Data.
EU-member country Cyprus has seen a similar surge in COVID cases, however, with the country’s seven-day average of 622 new cases per million surpassing Sweden’s numbers.
With Uppsala recording 908 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, compared to 772 nationwide, according to local reports, Köhler said the region’s new guidelines, which were initially announced last week, are a necessary step.
Home to two universities, Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Köhler said it is effectively “a small town in the middle of the world”.
“We have a lot of young people travelling to and from their homes,” he said, which the medical expert said he believed was “related” to Uppsala’s rise in coronavirus numbers.
He also noted that since the start of the pandemic, Sweden’s national government has been more “passive” on coronavirus restrictions than neighbouring nations.
The country has tightened its coronavirus restrictions since being hit by a second wave of the virus in October, with visitor limits imposed at shops and public venues and with pubs and restaurants forced to comply with a curfew.
But Sweden has never enforced lockdown rules similar to those seen in countries like France and the UK.
At the start of the pandemic, Köhler said he believed Sweden’s response was “too passive...and we didn’t act as quickly as we should have”. However, he said: “In the long run, I think we have gone the right way because it would have been difficult to have a lockdown for a while and then another”.
Ultimately, he said, “things have been going backward and forward all the time”.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Dr Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, said Uppsala’s decision to strengthen its coronavirus guidelines was understandable given the epidemiological situation in the area.
However, he said he believed that ultimately there is little difference between the region's guidelines and Sweden's overarching message for residents to practice social distancing and cut down on socialising as much as possible.