Coronavirus: Is Swedish trust in authorities starting to falter?

Coronavirus: Is Swedish trust in authorities starting to falter?
Friends walk along the harbour in central Stockholm in mid-June. Photo: AP Photo/Andres Kudacki
Mutual trust between state authorities and the public has been the cornerstone of Sweden's coronavirus response based on voluntary measures. But a new poll underlined a trend seen in recent weeks that this trust is starting to falter.

Unlike most European nations, Sweden never closed society down, opting instead to keep schools for under-16s open, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants and most businesses. 

The Public Health Agency argued that lockdowns only work temporarily, insisting that drastic short-term measures are too ineffective to justify their impact on people. The agency has also advised the general public against wearing face masks, even in environments like public transport.

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An Ipsos poll of 1,191 Swedes published in daily Dagens Nyheter showed that in June, 45 percent had “strong confidence” in authorities' ability to handle the crisis. That compared with 56 percent in April, while those who had “little confidence” rose from 21 to 29 percent.

And 57 percent now have “strong confidence” in the Public Health Agency, which has spearheaded the strategy while politicians have taken a backseat. This figure is down from 69 percent in April.

Support for the agency's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who has become the face of Sweden's strategy, remains relatively strong although it has declined from 69 to 60 percent.

Those who believed the centre-left government was coping well with the crisis meanwhile dropped from 50 percent in May to 38 percent in June. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's support also dropped from 49 percent to 39 percent.

“The differences are big enough that we can say with certainty that there has been a real change. The view of authorities' capabilities has taken a clear negative turn,” Ipsos analyst Nicklas Kallebring told Dagens Nyheter.

The country of 10.3 million has reported 5,122 COVID-19 deaths, far exceeding the combined total of its Nordic neighbours which all adopted much stricter measures.

Sweden has also struggled with testing, with per capita test rates well below the figures in neighbouring European countries throughout the outbreak. The number of people tested for the virus almost doubled in June, reaching over 60,000 last week as Stockholm was among the first regions to role out free diagnostic or antibody tests for all residents — though the booking app crashed under pressure.


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