Is Sweden’s Covid-19 strategy a Failure?

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By RACHAEL BUNYAN
FOR MAILONLINE and AFP

PUBLISHED: 12:37 GMT, 8 January 2021 | UPDATED: 01:58 GMT, 9 January 2021

Sweden‘s parliament on Friday passed a pandemic law giving the government new powers to curb the spread of Covid-19 in a country that has controversially relied on mostly non-coercive measures up to now.

Sweden has made headlines around the world by never imposing the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe but it has started tightening measures in the face of a stronger than expected second wave over recent months. 

The new law, which comes into force on Sunday, will enable the government to close businesses, shopping malls or public transport.

It will also be able to impose limits on the number of people allowed in specific public places, rather than general restrictions on public gatherings.
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The new law comes amid a dramatic increase in the number of coronavirus cases and related deaths in the country.  

Asked why the law was only put forward 10 months after the start of the epidemic, Health Minister Lena Hallengren said ‘it was not something we saw the need for in the spring.’

Speaking to broadcaster SVT, Hallengren stressed that they had seen an effect from widespread changes in behaviour among Swedes.

‘Then we had a summer with a low level of infection and then the work started during the autumn,’ Hallengren said.

In most cases, breaches of the new restrictions will lead to a fine, which previously has not been possible.

Unlike many other countries, Sweden does not have legislation that allows the government to shut down society in peacetime.

Health authorities have also insisted that battling the pandemic is ‘a marathon, not a sprint’, and measures have to be sustainable for the long haul.

Faced with a strong second wave, the country has already tightened preventative measures since November last year.

As cases multiplied, authorities urged people to limit social interactions to immediate family or a few friends.

A ban on public gatherings of more than eight people took effect in November and a recommendation on the use of face masks on public transport came into effect on Thursday.

The special pandemic law, which is in force until September, was first planned to go into effect in March but this was moved forward to January.

The country of some 10.3 million has been bit hit much harder than its Nordic neighbours and on Thursday reported a cumulative total of 482,284 cases of Covid-19 and 9,262 associated deaths.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9126087/Sweden-gets-tough-coronavirus-new-law-close-shops-limit-gatherings-deaths-soar.html?ito=social-twitter_mailonline

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https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-sweden-struggles-virus.html

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According to an official report released earlier this week, the strategy failed in its effort to protect the elderly in care homes – for which the government has admitted responsibility.

Over 90% of Covid-related deaths have been among those aged 70 and over, and nearly half of all Covid deaths have been in care homes, the government says.

Sweden is also said to have one of the highest per capita Covid-19 death rates in the world.

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf has described 2020 as a “terrible” year and says the national coronavirus strategy has failed.

He made the remarks as part of an annual TV programme reviewing the year with the royal family.

Sweden has been widely criticised for its unorthodox approach to handling the pandemic, relying more on guidelines and no mandatory face-mask wearing.

The country has seen nearly 350,000 cases and more than 7,800 deaths.

“I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died and that is terrible,” the king says in the programme.

“The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions. One thinks of all the family members who have happened to be unable to say goodbye to their deceased family members. I think it is a tough and traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye.”

When asked if he was afraid of being infected with Covid-19, the king – who is 74 – said: “Lately, it has felt more obvious, it has crept closer and closer. That’s not what you want.”

Instead of relying on legal sanctions, Sweden appeals to citizens’ sense of responsibility and civic duty, and issues only recommendations. There are no sanctions if they are ignored.

Sweden has never imposed a nationwide lockdown, and most schools, bars and restaurants have remained open. However, some secondary schools are now being asked to switch to distance-learning.

Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, in November explained the strategy relied on a combination of legal and voluntary measures.

He told the BBC that this was, in the Swedish context, “the combination that we really believe is the best one”.

Some measures are binding however, and public gatherings of over eight people are banned.

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Löfven’s government and chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell have defended the country’s controversial coronavirus strategy, despite Sweden having the highest per capita Covid-19 death rates among its neighbours.

15 December 2020

Swedish PM says officials misjudged power of Covid resurgence

Major report finds nation failed to protect elderly and criticises response to the pandemic

Health officials in Sweden, which opted not to respond to the first wave of Covid-19 with a national lockdown, misjudged the power of the virus’s resurgence, the country’s prime minister has said, as independent commission criticised the country’s strategy.

“I think that most people in the profession didn’t see such a wave in front of them; they talked about different clusters,” the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, told the Swedish Aftonbladet newspaper on Tuesday.

Sweden has stood out among European and other nations for the way it has handled the pandemic, not mandating lockdowns like other nations but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty.

But the country of just over 10 million people has seen 341,029 confirmed infections and 7,667 virus-related deaths, a death toll much higher than in neighbours Norway, Finland and Denmark.

Over the summer, Sweden’s left-leaning minority government had said a commission would be appointed once the crisis was over but came under pressure to act sooner.

The commission said in its report that the strategy to protect the nation’s elderly partly failed, and its head stressed that the current and the previous governments would bear the “ultimate responsibility” for the situation.

Commission president Mats Melin told a press conference that elderly care in Sweden has major structural shortcomings and the country has proved unprepared and ill equipped to meet the pandemic. The commission also considered that several measures taken in the spring were late and insufficient.

Melin said the blame for structural shortcomings in Sweden’s health care system could be placed on several authorities and organisations.

“But we still want to say that the government governs the country and that the ultimate responsibility therefore rests with the government and previous governments,” Melin said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/15/swedish-pm-says-officials-misjudged-power-of-covid-resurgence

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STOCKHOLM (BLOOMBERG) – The chief architect of Sweden’s controversial response to the pandemic is losing the confidence of the people who are supposed to be following his advice, with even the nation’s monarch signalling his disapproval.

Dr Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist and the country’s main proponent of an anti-lockdown strategy, saw his support slump 13 points in a poll published on Thursday (Dec 17), to 59 per cent of those surveyed. Confidence in his employer, the Swedish Public Health Agency, sank to 52 per cent from 68 per cent in October, according to the poll by Ipsos and Dagens Nyheter.

“Confidence is in a downward spiral,” said Mr Nicklas Kallebring, an analyst at Ipsos.

The latest poll follows cries for help from Sweden’s healthcare workers, who are increasingly overwhelmed by a pandemic that has sickened and killed exponentially more of their countrymen than in any other Nordic country.

The situation has already overwhelmed intensive care units in Stockholm, and the authorities are now racing to come up with contingency plans.

Meanwhile, Dr Tegnell has continued to defend Sweden’s overall strategy of avoiding lockdowns. He also argues that there’s no real evidence that face masks work, and Swedes are among the only people left going about their daily lives largely mask-free, with shops, restaurants and gyms all still open.

In an interview with broadcaster TV4, Dr Tegnell said no one can tell whether Sweden’s strategy has failed.

“More or less all countries are struggling with this,” he said. But he acknowledged that the situation in his home country is dire.

“We are beginning to approach breaking point in many different aspects,” he said. “I understand that healthcare is having a very tough time now… the staff are worn out” all of which means “that the pressure on care is becoming very, very great”.

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