While most of Europe is in lockdown, Sweden is going its own way

While most of Europe is in lockdown, Sweden is going its own way
A crowded restaurant terrace in central Malmö this weekend. Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT
Sweden still appears to be taking a softer line than most of Europe, with primary schools and restaurants generally open.

This stands in start contrast to the urgent tone elsewhere and has sparked heated debate whether Sweden is really doing the right thing.

“We cannot allow the human desperation in Wuhan and Bergamo to be repeated in Sweden. That would be a gamble that violates society's most fundamental principle: that every person has an inherent value,” Peter Wolodarski, the editor-in-chief of Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, wrote on Sunday, calling for either tougher measures or more widespread coronavirus testing.

'Take responsibility'

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, in a televised speech on Sunday, urged people to “take responsibility” and follow the government's recommendations.

Those include working from home if you can, staying home if you feel sick, practise social distancing, and stay home if you belong to a risk group or are over the age of 70.

Gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned – compared to more than two people in Britain and Germany – and the government has advised upper secondary schools and universities to close their facilities and conduct classes online.

A man is pictured watching the prime minister's speech. Photo: Jessica Gow / TT

On Tuesday, the government announced that restaurants and bars would only be allowed to provide table service to avoid crowding but stopped short of actually closing them.

Health authorities also urged people to reconsider trips to visit relatives over Easter.

But for many, life is carrying on close to normal.

In contrast, neighbouring Norway two weeks ago rolled out the “most intrusive measures” seen in peacetime, including banning sports and cultural events, and shutting down schools and businesses.

Sweden's parliament has so far simply fast-tracked a bill allowing for the closure of primary and preschools – if deemed necessary.

However, in line with the rest of the European Union, Sweden has shut its borders to non-necessary travel.

Experts rule

Grilled by media about their apparently relaxed response to the pandemic, Swedish politicians respond that the government will take its cue from experts at the country's Public Health Agency.

The agency has yet to call for stricter measures, arguing that the elderly should stay home, not children.

“As soon as the Public Health Agency requests that the government make a decision, we will do it this quickly,” Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren, snapping her fingers, said earlier this month.


Minister Lena Hallengren. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

But not everybody shares the government's faith in the agency, with some accusing it of putting lives at risk.

This has led to a stream of vitriol on social media directed at the agency and its main spokesperson, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.

The amount of hateful comments became so overwhelming that the agency's director, Johan Carlson, felt compelled to defend Tegnell, saying: “I think it's close to unworthy, what he has been subjected to.”

'Sit on a park bench'

The mounting pressure has not changed the authorities' stance that draconian measures are not effective enough to justify their impact on society.

On Monday, Sweden's former state epidemiologist and current advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), Johan Giesecke, encouraged Swedes to go out and enjoy the spring sun.

“Bring a friend and walk a metre apart. Don't hug your neighbour. Bring a thermos and sit on a park bench. It's bad for your health to sit at home too,” Giesecke told broadcaster SVT's morning show.

Right or wrong, Sweden does not seem to have a worse virus problem than its neighbours, according to the numbers of declared cases.

On Tuesday, Sweden reported 2,272 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, while Norway and Denmark – which each have around half the population of Sweden – reported 2,566 and 1,577 cases, respectively.

All Scandinavian countries are however believed to have a big number of unknown cases as testing is only being done on patients with severe symptoms.

Article written by AFP's Johannes Ledel

 


Member comments

  1. It seems the Swedish Government is not taking this pandemic corona virus seriously keeping in mind the ruthless loss it has done to human lives in other European countries. They should rather enforce strict controls in order to make sure that people remain safe.

  2. For me is just not clear why is it recommend to wear face mask (any kind of of them) in the rest of the world and when I did it here, I was like an allien. Also in a hospital…Yes, I know the theory that they dont work too, but also WHO recommend it, in china, they have it, all countries ordered it now, it help not 100% but may help for 50% maybe, but here in Sweden nothing…to be honest, have just worries that it will grow and be like in italy couple of months later.From other part, yes, for economy is it not so bad now.

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