• Sweden's neighbours have offered the country help as intensive care units in Stockholm fill with coronavirus patients amid an alarming second wave of infections.
  • Sweden is grappling with an alarming second wave of coronavirus infections.
  • A senior Swedish doctor last week warned that he was unsure if 'exhausted' healthcare workers would have the capacity to treat the same number of ICU patients as they did at the peak of Sweden's first coronavirus wave.
  • A Swedish official said the government had not yet requested help from its neighbours.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Sweden's neighbours have offered the country emergency assistance as intensive care units in the country's capital city fill with coronavirus patients amid an alarming second wave of infections.

Officials in Norway and Finland over the weekend said they were on standby to offer medical assistance to Sweden should the government request it.

It comes after reports that Sweden was preparing to ask neighbouring countries to relieve the pressure on its healthcare system, with the number of intensive care beds rapidly running out as infections rise across the country.

"We have not received an official request for help, but we assess on a daily basis what the hospital situation looks like and we are, of course, ready to help Sweden if we can," said Kirsi Varhila, a government official in Finland, according to a Financial Times report.

Maria Jahrmann Bjerke, a Norwegian government official, told Swedish state broadcaster NRK that Norway would also offer medical assistance to Sweden, in comments which were cited by the Financial Times.

Johanna Sandwall, operations chief of the National Board of Health and Welfare, told Swedish newspaper The Local that the government had not yet requested help from its neighbours and said ICU units were not yet at capacity.

"There are no such plans right now," she said. "Right now we have sufficient capacity nationally to meet our care needs." 

The offers come after a senior Swedish doctor last week warned that he was unsure if healthcare workers would have the capacity to treat 1,100 ICU patients as they did at the peak of Sweden's first wave earlier this year.

"People are exhausted," Sten Rubertsson, a staff doctor at the National Board of Health and Welfare told Dagens Medicin, in a report cited by Bloomberg.

High numbers of frontline health workers in Sweden have also quit over the last year, exacerbating the problem, according to a separate Bloomberg report.

Sweden opted to follow a unique approach to the pandemic, refusing to introduce national lockdown measures or recommend the use of masks to prevent the spread of infection. It has incurred a death rate many times greater than neighbouring countries which adopted a more conventional approach. 

Sweden has suffered a far more severe second wave than Norway or Finland since infections began to rise significantly in March. Per the Financial Times, the country has reported 1,400 deaths in the last month, compared to roughly 100 in Norway and 80 in Finland.

A total of 7,514 people have died with coronavirus in Sweden since the beginning of the pandemic, with cases having surged since a second wave of infections began in October. That compares to Norway, where 387 people have died, and Finland, where 453 people have died.

Sweden's population is around 10 million, roughly twice that of both Finland and Norway, meaning Sweden's death rate per capita is significantly higher.

Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist who is credited as being the architect of the no-lockdown policy, had predicted earlier this year that Sweden would be saved from a second Covid wave due to high levels of immunity in the general population but admitted last month that the country was experiencing a new surge in cases.

Tegnell has been heavily criticised for a policy which has coincided with a death rate many times higher than neighbouring countries including Norway. 

Sweden has begun gradually to retreat from its no-lockdown stance in recent months as the government struggles to stem an alarming rise in the number of coronavirus infections.

In November the government banned the sale of alcohol after 10pm and banned public gatherings of more than 8 people. Last week Stefan Lofven, the prime minister, said that high schools would close for the rest of term.

Swedish officials last week called for help and said the country's intensive care units were almost entirely full.

"We need help," Bjorn Eriksson, director of healthcare for the Stockholm region, said last week, noting that 83 patients were in intensive care beds. "That corresponds more or less to all intensive care beds we normally have."

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