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Under Scrutiny from Swedish Colleagues, Umeå Researchers To Present “Fine Tuned” Virus Model This Week

An Umeå University researcher tells Umeå Today that his group’s new coronavirus spread model will take into account the latest national statistics.

ÅLIDHEM – Umeå University epidemiologist Joacim Rocklöv told Umeå Today this afternoon that his research group will present an updated model, within a few days, of how the coronavirus may be spreading throughout Sweden. This comes after an article in this morning’s Dagens Nyheter, in which a team of scientists from around the country criticized the Umeå model — among other models — which said that without enough social distancing, the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in the country could reach many thousands at one time. Since mid-April — when, researchers now think, the virus peaked in Stockholm and perhaps even in Umeå — the national intensive care count has hovered around 500.

“The Dagens Nyheter article contained several errors,” Rocklöv told Umeå Today. “Overall, our model is not a forecast, but a scenario that highlights the effects of social distancing.”

The Umeå model was called a “forecast” by Philip Gerlee, a biomathematician at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, in a quote in Dagens Nyheter. He, along with 14 researchers around the country, criticized the Umeå model as too complex to produce reliable predictions of the coronavirus spread. This caused the model to overestimate the number of intensive care patients by a factor of ten or more, the Gerlee group wrote in engineering journal NyTeknik later in April.

Data suggests that the Umeå group’s previous model was more correct than critics claim.

However, an Umeå Today analysis suggests that the Umeå model may not have been as inaccurate as Gerlee’s group claims. The Umeå model presents five different coronavirus curves, showing the number of patients in intensive care over time from March to September. Each curve corresponds to an increased amount of social distancing.

The Umeå team’s coronavirus model of April 7. -Sjödin et al., medRxiv

The Umeå model envisions that the number in intensive care would be in the hundreds, rather than thousands, if there is a 50% reduction in social contact between people under the age of 60. As April progressed, more and more Swedish residents were, indeed, practicing social distancing in public, according to statistics from the national Civil Contigencies Agency. By the end of April, almost 9 in 10 residents said they were doing so. More social distancing means a reduction in social contact, so it may be the case that Sweden was achieving somewhere near the 50% that the Umeå group said was necessary to keep intensive care case totals down.

When the agency’s statistics came out, Umeå University social psychologist Annika Nordlund told Umeå Today that a number of factors — above all, the desire to conform to social norms — motivates Umeå and Swedish residents to increase their social distancing.

Rocklöv told Umeå Today that the Umeå group’s upcoming analysis will be “a fine tuning” of its previous model.

Sweden’s handling of the coronavirus, more generally, has been the subject of intense debate internationally. Unlike its Nordic neighbors, Sweden’s government has not legislated strong lockdowns. Sweden’s death rate per capita is multiple times higher than Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Yet some still argue that the Swedish approach is working well, because the country’s residents have high trust in their government recommendations. Speaking today to Business Insider, Umeå University political scientist Anders Lidström argued that “in the Swedish case, government recommendations are treated as more than just recommendations,” and that “people’s support for healthcare and public authorities is very, very high, and has actually increased from March to April.”

Lidström’s colleague in the Umeå political science department, Katarina Eckerberg, added, “We are famous for following the rules.”

A City task force to prevent coronavirus spread among young people broke up a large party at Bölesholmarna beach and in Backen last night.

The City of Umeå task force known as the fältgrupp (literally, field group) said last night that it responded to a report of a party at Bölesholmarna beach, on Gröna Oxen island in the Ume River, where some 100 young people were gathered. “Some of the young people have alcohol, and are choosing to avoid us,” the task force wrote. “They have moved across the new bike bridge, to Kyrkkudden”, a location across the river in Backen.

Thanks to the police who came and helped us tonight, and also parents,” the task force wrote on Facebook, “it has started to calm down and about 30 people are left.”

An image of the Backen party last night. -Umeå Kommun

The task force said that parents had tipped them off to the party. Last weekend, during the Valborg holiday, the task force said it responded to a similar party of at least 100 people, also at Kyrkkudden. When police arrived, the young people dispersed.

Bostaden has announced clearer rules about fining residents for damages.

Housing company Bostaden announced this weekend that it is changing the terms of its contracts with residents, for damage both to common areas, as well as to student rooms and apartments.

Under the new rules, if a common area is damaged by a resident or his or her guests, only that tenant will be fined, rather than all the people who share the common area, a practice known as collective punishment. Last month, the Umeå Student Union criticized Bostaden for — as the Union claimed — using collective punishment.

Information will also be “clearer and more detailed” about what kind of alterations that tenants can make to student rooms and apartments, Bostaden said.

The Swedish Consumer Agency had reviewed Bostaden’s rental conditions for students, and recommended changes. “We always follow tenancy law,” Bostaden Marketing Manager Anders Hugosson told SVT. “If there are any errors in the way our agreements are written, we, of course, will examine and correct them all.”

Umeå is releasing sheep and lambs into public parks for residents to meet up close.

The City announced today that at the end of the month, it will let out sheep and lambs to graze freely in green areas in Hörnefors, Holmsund, Obbola, Sävar, Mariehem, and Rödäng. “Whether you are a child or an adult, you are welcome to meet the animals up close,” the City wrote on its website, which also says that the grazing helps keep the landscape from becoming overgrown.

Sheep grazing in Umeå. -Umeå Kommun

The sheep and lambs are rented from a farm called Häjle Gård, near Kasamark in the far western part of Umeå municipality. Because of the risk of spreading coronavirus, the City says it is not holding any special events for the public to rendezvous with the animals.

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