Sweden’s Ambassador to the United States affirmed Sunday that the country’s capital, Stockholm, could reach herd immunity from the coronavirus by May.
Sweden: PM Announces Thousands of Deaths Due to COVID
"We could reach herd immunity in the capital as early as next month," Ambassador Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter told National Public Radio (NPR), adding that "about 30 percent of people in Stockholm have reached a level of immunity."
By herd immunity, officials mean the majority of a given population has become immune to an infectious disease by either getting infected and recovering from it or through vaccination, thus reaching a point that it can no longer significantly spread among the rest of the population.
Some researchers have put the threshold for coronavirus herd immunity at 60 to 70 percent in some areas. However, the approach remains yet to be scientifically proven and tested on how long any immunity lasts.
The World Health Organization on Friday said the idea that one-time infection can lead to immunity remains unproven. South Korea recently reported that 222 patients had tested positive again for the virus after initially recovering.
The Swedish official agreed that more research and testing is needed to answer the lingering question regarding immunity, adding her government is ready to change its strategy should the situation require it, but there are currently no plans to switch course.
The decision to not issue a lockdown "worked in some aspects because our health system has been able to cope," the Chief state epidemiologist at Sweden's public health agency Anders Tegnell told the BBC's Radio Four's Today program.
As of Monday, the country reports 18,900 cases and over 2,200 deaths. Their statistics show that 90 percent of those who died were over 70 and half were over 86, with just one percent under 50.
The country has by far the highest death toll among Scandinavian nations with more than double the number of cases in Denmark and nearly four times as much as in Finland.
Yet in harsh contrast to images of empty streets and lockdown measures across the world, Swedes continue life as usual.
Schools, restaurants, and malls have remained open, while the government has issued social distancing guidelines, banned gatherings of more than 50 people, prompted most high schools and universities for online teaching, and advised people not to take unnecessary trips.
The ambassador said the decision to keep most businesses open during the crisis could potentially speed up Sweden's economic recovery, but she made clear that the country has been suffering under the pandemic.
"Our unemployment, which was about 6.5 percent before, is now roughly around 11 percent and growing," she said. "This is, of course, extremely serious, and we expect that our GDP will shrink between 4-10 percent for 2020."