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World News

Swedish COVID-19 response chief predicts local outbreaks, no big second wave

FILE PHOTO: A sign assures people that the bar is open during the coronavirus outbreak, outside a pub in Stockholm, Sweden March 26, 2020. Picture taken March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Colm Fulton/File Photo

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden is likely to see local outbreaks but no big second wave of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, such as inundated hospitals a few months ago, the country’s top epidemiologist and architect if its unorthodox pandemic strategy said on Monday.

Sweden has been an outlier in Europe’s fight against the novel coronavirus, keeping businesses, restaurants and most schools open throughout the pandemic, while not recommending the use of face masks, which remain a rare sight on city streets.

Per capita, Sweden has suffered many times more COVID-19 deaths than its Nordic neighbours, though not quite as many as Europe’s worst-hit countries such as Belgium, Spain and Britain.

New cases, hospitalisations and mortality have fallen sharply over the past couple of months. With most Swedes having returned from summer vacations and schools reopening last week for the new semester, there are concerns the country could see a second wave of infections.

“We don’t believe we’ll have a classic second wave, such as those seen in influenza pandemics where you get widespread contagion in the community again,” Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in an interview with broadcaster TV4.

“This disease appears to work in a different way. The spread is more patchy, so the likelihood is greater that we will see - as one is currently seeing around Europe - outbreaks in certain places, at workplaces and similar environments, during the autumn.”

With the death toll nearing 6,000 people, including many nursing home residents who succumbed during March, April and May, Tegnell and the pandemic strategy he champions has divided opinion both at home and abroad.

A group of scientists that has long been critical of the country’s response, sometimes engaging in fierce argument with Tegnell, this month warned of a renewed spread of the virus as schools reopened, calling on authorities to step up safeguards.

“I think one should always be worried about this disease because it is constantly causing new mischief and is very unpredictable,” Tegnell said. “But that we would return to the situation we had during the spring - we don’t see that.”

Reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Peter Graff

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