SWEDEN’S UNORTHODOX APPROACH TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC- DALYN DEL VALLE-MCCULLOUGH

Image: Jonathan Brickhorst (Unsplash)

In the media maelstrom that is modern news, the hottest topic of debate is COVID-19. Sweden has found itself under the scrutiny of the world for their unorthodox approach to lockdown and the deadly virus. With lives on the line, the world can not help but question whether this approach is wise or a preface of tragedy. 

SWEDEN’S SOCIAL CHANGES

Sweden refrained from issuing a full-scale lockdown (when a government limits and restricts movement and certain activities within a society) and instead proceeded business as normal. They did not shut down even when they saw a spike in cases and instead relied on their citizens’ “personal responsibility and willful obedience”. When addressing Swedish residents, they advised that if they were sick, to stay at home to lower risk of infection. However, bars, restaurants and stores remained open and citizens were asked to maintain a physical distance from one another.

Furthermore, all establishments found non-compliant with the new physical distancing regulation were quickly shut down and reprimanded. Notably, Sweden refrained from enforcing the strict “wearing of masks when out in public” rule, despite the WHO advising all nations that it would be precautionary to do so. The argument posed by Sweden’s state epidemiologist; Anders Tegnell; is that the wearing of masks may confuse or undermine Sweden’s strategy towards the pandemic, arguing that there is no significant scientific evidence to support that wearing a mask will aid in the prevention of infection. He further states, that masks encourage people to go out if they are sick and it only increases the touching of one’s face, further heightening the risk of infection.

SWEDEN’S TESTING

With regards to testing, the Swedish government announced in early April that they would rely on the Public Health Agency to lead testing, who aim to have as many as 150 000 tests conducted per week. They would however, provide priority testing to certain groups especially, people with symptoms severe enough for hospitalisation, the elderly and those working in healthcare. As one of the oldest average populations in the world (41.2 years old), it must be taken into consideration that most of their fatalities will more than likely be those of the older generation. Despite this, the Swedish government has taken the welfare of it’s elderly into genuine consideration.

ELDERLY CARE AND RAPID DEATH TOLL

Sweden is further criticised for their high death toll as little over 200 of their deaths include the elderly, over the age of 70. As Sweden is an ageing nation within which 5.2% of their population consists of persons over the age of 80, many are at risk and vulnerable to such an infectious disease. Of the estimated 5700 COVID-19 positive cases, little over 2500 deaths were elderly citizens over the age of 70. Since then, Sweden has enforced stricter regulations on not only the elderly, healthcare workers but the care homes as well. Passing a law to ban visitation and enforcing thorough training for all care workers, as well as providing them with more PPE (Personal Protection Equipment).

The future of Sweden’s overall health and safety lies in not only the hands of its government but a separate organisation known as the Public Health Agency. Public Health Agency alone does not have the power to pass laws and can only recommend and advise its leaders based on comprehensive research and experience. Which in turn, became one of the pillars of Sweden’s COVID-19 response.

As it is against Sweden’s constitution to prohibit the freedom of movement, they have taken a laissez-faire approach to its policies and regulations, they rely heavily on the social responsibility of its people. As a result, Sweden claims that this method has proven fruitful; as Swedes have willingly decreased traveling and worked from home when they can.

The Public Health Agency gives a press conference daily with updated results from research and other COVID-19 related news. It seems that the Swedish government takes it on a day-by-day basis, unlike other nations who have “locked-down” and prepared for the worst. 

SWEDEN IN CONTRAST TO OTHER NORDIC STATES

It is clear by comparison, Sweden has been hit the hardest with their total number of COVID-19 related deaths, compared to its Nordic neighbours. Experts state that whilst they may not have experienced the same economic stagnation as other nations did in the first three months, in the long run, it did nothing.

Sweden’s Nordic neighbours, such as Norway and Denmark were quick to enforce lockdowns and escape economic stagnation and are expecting to suffer minimal economic decline. Norway, for instance, expects to only “contract 3.9%” compared to an earlier estimated 5.5%. In contrast, Sweden went from an estimated 1.3% gain to a 4.5% decline as well as an almost 2% increase in unemployment in only three short months.

In fewer words, Sweden’s approach can be regarded as wasteful and self-destructive. Despite their assumed advantage in having an open economy, during the lockdown periods of other nations, they made little to no gain over others. Instead, they ended up with the same results, but with far worse – and unnecessary – deaths. While their innovation is commendable, evidence supports that caution proves far more fruitful.

By Dalyn Del Valle

Dalyn Del Valle-McCullough is a 3rd year Humanities student at the University of Pretoria, currently studying Politics: International Relations.”I came to admire my field of study and as a result, it has become something I am quite passionate about. I aim to use my knowledge to aid others in the future, as a wise person once told me: “A good leader, is one who serves his people.”

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