Swedish Health Minister: ‘It’s not a fact that if you just close whatever you can, you get rid of the virus’

Swedish Health Minister: 'It's not a fact that if you just close whatever you can, you get rid of the virus'
Sweden's Health Minister Lena Hallengren does not agree with the debate over lockdown. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
As Sweden's government further tightened its coronavirus recommendations to control rising infection rates, The Local spoke to the country's Health Minister Lena Hallengren.

When my colleague at The Local interviewed you in May, you said that you wouldn't have wanted to have imposed a lockdown, even if you could have done. I wondered if that's still the case?

I think, really, “what is a lockdown?”

It won't be possible to tell people working at hospitals, in the health care sector, in elderly care homes, in pharmacies, in grocery stores, teachers, preschool teachers, to stay at home. You have the police, you have fire workers, you have lots of people, who are not able to just stay at home.

What we're trying to do all the time is say, “if you can work at home, please do that”. If you're an employer, make sure that your employees can stay at home.

So, we're trying to say that our society has to still be functioning. And at the same time, we're trying to really close or limit different sectors of society, take a look at sports, the cultural events, all the places where people meet.

So I think all this discussion of “lockdown”, I don't really agree with the debate. I think it's a way to try to say, “we're doing one thing and you're doing something else”.

But we're closing down or limiting lots of our sectors.

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But if you just look at the last three months, and you compare the action Sweden has taken with those of Denmark, Denmark has been much quicker, and imposed a lot of measures all at once. Why aren't you being as decisive as Denmark?

I think we're extremely decisive. We're working extremely hard, trying to both have information, recommendations, and restrictions when it comes to schools, the elderly care homes, the health care sector, and the cultural sector.

Compare to Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, and France: it's not a fact that if you just close whatever you can, that you get rid of the virus.

We're trying in our context to make sure that people really are able to do their work, because if they don't have a job to go to, they don't have an income. They don't have a place to live.

I think we're doing a lot, I would like to say, and I think the Swedish people agree that they're extremely limited in their way of living.

And just to do the Danish comparison. I have a lot of contact with my Danish colleague, and killing 17 million mink with no support in the law, you can call that 'different'.

Some people say that in Sweden, no one carries the buck. Is it the regions who are responsible for things going wrong? Is it the municipalities, is it you, yourself? or is it the Public Health Agency? Do you think that's a problem?

I think that we have a situation with a pandemic, with the biggest health crisis in modern time, and we have a system in Sweden which you can have a lot of opinions about.

We have 290 municipalities with responsible politicians, and they get elected, reelected, or not reelected, considering the work they have been doing the last four years.

They are responsible for the elderly care.

We have the regions. They are responsible for the health care. We have that law of course, we have guidelines, recommendations.

But we have 21 regional politicians, and they are elected, possibly reelected, or not.

It would be easy to say, “it's me or it's him or it's her”, but we have a pandemic, and we're in the middle of it and to try to make an extremely easy solution which is not a solution and doesn't give us a better elderly care sector, I don't know.

There haven't been a lot of other proposals from other political parties, the opposite. They have been saying [we should] together as one country to make sure that authorities, agencies, and civil society face this pandemic together.

So really after saying that for six months, to then have an idea that maybe it could have been done better, I don't know.

I'm still waiting for all the other opinions on extraordinary measures to be taken – which extremely few are expressing.


Member comments

  1. It would be wrong to compare Sweden and Denmark in relation to the virus – the population density of Denmark is six times more than the figure for Sweden. Sweden is a big country with a small population. I can understand why the politicians have decided on the measures they have taken.

  2. It is scary to see a someone of authority so caught up in denial and finger-pointing. There is not one constrictive word coming out of her here. Just straw men arguments and diversions. She’s trying to save her neck while hundreds die. The King was right.

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