Sweden may reach ‘herd immunity’ in weeks as the country resists total lockdown

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection against infectious diseases where a population develops sufficient immunity to a disease that that infection cannot spread within the group. A population can reach herd immunity if a large proportion has been exposed to the virus. Now, Sweden resisted total lockdown measures, unlike its neighboring countries, while experts believe herd immunity will be achieved in Stockholm within weeks.

Europe has been badly hurt by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Several countries in Europe report a high number of confirmed cases, including Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. These countries have imposed lockdown measures, social distancing behaviors, and travel bans, in the attempt to contain the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

“In major parts of Sweden, around Stockholm, we have reached a plateau (in new cases), and we already see the effect of herd immunity, and in a few weeks, we’ll see even more of the effects of that. And in the rest of the country, the situation is stable,” Dr. Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said in a statement.

Image Credit: Kovop58 / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Kovop58 / Shutterstock

Voluntary measures

The country’s top epidemiologist says that Stockholm could attain herd immunity in weeks amid the country’s low-level lockdown measures. The measures are voluntary, and the government has faith in the residents that they will avoid social contact, while the country’s borders have remained open.

Herd immunity is reached when approximately 60 percent of the population becomes immune to a virus. However, without a vaccine, scientists are analyzing if exposure and recovery from the COVID-19 will provide long-term immunity. In some countries such as Japan, China, and South Korea, reinfections of SARS-CoV-2 have been reported.

“Each country has to reach ‘herd immunity’ in one way or another, and we are going to reach it in a different way,” Dr. Tegnell added.

There are enough signals to show that we can think about herd immunity, about recurrence. Very few cases of reinfection have been reported globally so far. How long the herd immunity will last, we do not know, but there is definitely an immune response.

As of writing, the country has reached an infection toll of 16,755 and a death toll of 2,021, which is a fatality rate of 12 percent, higher than the rates in other countries. Dr. Tegnell also said that the mortality rate in the country is high because the virus was introduced to nursing homes, endangering the lives of older adults.

The sudden spike in novel coronavirus cases in Stockholm has raised questions about the country’s decision to combat the pandemic without resorting to lockdowns, which have left most of the countries in Europe in a standstill. Most countries have closed schools and have taken authoritarian measures to impose social distancing, implement curfews, band meeting of more than two people in public, and limit exposure to potential carriers.

Sweden did something different. Rather than imposing strict social distancing measures and policies, the country aimed to keep public life as open as possible. People are still allowed to go to restaurants, send their children to school, and get a haircut, even if the cases have been rapidly increasing and the number of deaths has mounted. Stockholm alone accounts for more than half the fatalities.

Few restrictions

Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, explains that the country’s approach is not similar to other countries. The government has not imposed a lockdown, and it relies on the people taking responsibility themselves. The coronavirus measures the country has rolled out include bars, restaurants, and malls remain open, and school classes are not suspended.

The government has encouraged everyone against nonessential travels, while those who are 70 years old and above to stay at home. The only restrictions are that crowds of more than 50 people are banned, restaurants and bars are to serve only those who are seated, and people are barred from visiting nursing homes.

Regardless of lenient lockdown measures, the country has ramped up its testing capacities, Sweden initially tested those who report symptoms or those who came to the hospital. Increasing testing capacities is the key to help the health system cope with the number of admissions. This way, the country can flatten the curve and prevent overwhelming the health system.

The country is testing around 20,000 people each week but plans to increase that to about 100,000 in a few weeks.

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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  1. Tomi Aalto Tomi Aalto Finland says:

    Sweden is playing Russian roulette. No one knows of how durable the assumed immunity might be, or if the immunity is possible to achieve in general. If this new coronavirus behaves similarly as its relative SARS-Cov (2002-03), the immunity might remain for 1-2 years. But it's also very likely that this new coronavirus mutates and some people might have a short period immunity against strain A or B or C or D etc. The only way to get herd immunity is to develop a working vaccine and still we'd have several uncertainties. But this Swedish strategy is very expensive, at least if measured with a number of corona victims.

    • Rebecca Olesen Rebecca Olesen Sweden says:

      Well, a year later we know how that worked out!  There is no long lasting immunity. If Tegnell had 'googled' coronavirus, he may have found the results of a 7 year study done in Kenya about whether immunity was ever developed against another coronavirus that causes cold-symptoms, which resulted in the answer: NO.  Almost all participants contracted the virus at least twice, one man caught it 8 times, and the shortest amount of time between infections was 3 months.
      Herd immunity can only occur with viruses in which permanent immunity is developed, naturally by transmission (chicken pox/measles) or created by a real vaccine.  For measles at least 95% of the population must be vaccinated for that to happen and in Sweden they were arguing that if 40% of the population "developed immunity" that would be enough to 'get rid of it'.
      The results have been catastrophic!
      Further, if Tegnell had bothered to read anything about Sars-Cov-1, he would have understood that MANY people who were hospitalized in 2003 epidemic were left with permanent lung damage and chronic, debilitating illness.  Just like now.

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