Conscript soldiers assist the Public Health Agency of Sweden in mapping Covid-19

This week, the Public Health Agency of Sweden is conducting a national investigation of the occurrence of Covid-19 among the population. The Swedish Armed Forces is assisting in the collection of tests.

Training staff to collect self-test kits for Covid-19 at Gotland regiment. Photo: Emy Åklundh/Swedish Armed Forces

Last week, conscript officers, Agnes Thomée and Emmy Staberg of the National CBRN Defence Centre, went to Gotland for a half-day training session with the patrols from the Gotland Regiment (P 18) that will travel the island of Gotland to collect Covid-19 self-test kits.

"We start by teaching them the theory about how to collect the tests at people’s homes, and then we do practical exercises in order for them to get routines in place in the little time that we have at our disposal," says Emmy Staberg.

The national investigation is a continuation of the regional assessment that was carried out in the Stockholm region a couple of weeks ago. During the coming week, tests and questionnaire responses from 2 700 volunteers all over the country will be collected.

"Our hope is that we will be able to get a good estimate of how many of the population that are currently infected, and what the geographical spread is at the moment. The questionnaire responses will also help us learn more about the symptoms," says microbiologist Ramona Groenheit, investigation project manager at the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

The assessment that was conducted in the Stockholm region showed that 2.5 per cent of the population carried the virus, and that all that tested positive also reported having some kind of symptom. However, the number of positive results was too small in order to draw any certain conclusions. Hopefully, the national investigation will provide more in-depth knowledge.

In practice, testing materiel and questionnaires have been sent to the 2 700 volunteers that were selected based on age, domicile and gender.

"The patrols go to the people that have received a self-test kit and collect the tests. They knock on the door and make sure to maintain a safe distance at all times. The tests are put in a special package and left at a collecting station before being sent on to a laboratory to be analysed," says Emmy Staberg.

Some thirty tests will be collected from participants all over the island of Gotland. Two patrols comprising contract staff (there are no conscript soldiers on Gotland yet) have been deployed by the P 18 regiment.

"This may well be the worst crisis that Sweden has experienced in over a hundred years. Now is the time that the Swedish Armed Forces must prove to the general public, the political leadership and to our staff that we are able to provide assistance to the community, and make a real difference in crisis management. This is now our top priority at the P 18 regiment, while obviously always maintaining basic readiness," says Regiment Chief Mattias Ardin.