As many European countries impose lockdowns on their populations to tackle the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, Sweden appears to be adopting a more relaxed approach.
How is Sweden Reacting to the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven urged people to take responsibility and obey the Government’s advice during a televised speech on Sunday, which until last week was the same approach that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson adopted until dozens of Brits flocked to public venues last weekend.
The Swedish government’s recommendations include staying at home if you feel sick, working from home if you can, and to stay at home if you are aged 70 or over.
While Britain has left schools open for emergency workers to support the most vulnerable students, in Sweden schools and universities are only being advised to close their facilities and organize online lessons. The Swedish Parliament has also passed a bill to enable preschools and primary schools to be closed if absolutely necessary.
Numerous governments have closed pubs and restaurants, but the Swedish Government has done the opposite. Swedish venues would only be allowed to provide table service to avoid crowding. Like its EU counterparts, Sweden has closed its borders to non-necessary travel.
Is the Swedish Prime Minister Playing Russian Roulette?
The Swedish Government’s approach has been criticized by many health experts. Some of them have accused the Prime Minister of playing “Russian roulette” with the health of Swedes. Yet Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, has denied the country’s approach is to rapidly build group immunity to the virus. He defended the government’s core strategy, which is to slow the spread of the infection and ensure the health service has a reasonable workload.
However, the Guardian reports that Fredrik Elgh, a virology professor at Umeå University, and Joacim Rocklöv, a professor of epidemiology and public health at Umeå, are both concerned that Swedish politicians are failing to do more to slow the spread of the virus.
It is true that the number of Covid-19 cases in Sweden is rising. So far, there are 2,735 cases in the country and 66 deaths, including 16 people who have recovered. This could be the main reason why the Swedes are more relaxed about the coronavirus outbreak than other nations.
Could Sweden’s Case Count Rise Again?
The Swedish Public Health Agency (also known as the Folkhalsomyndigheten) and Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren have defended the government’s approach and it seems like they will not be imposing more extreme measures for now, though they have not ruled out that option.
It remains yet to be seen whether this approach will work. The agency has also refused to make public risk assessments or prediction models for the spread of the virus. Tegnell believes that under these measures, the number of Covid-19 cases will slow in May, but will rise again in autumn.
Will Sweden’s Approach Work?
As Jasmine Andersson wrote for iNews, the reason why Swedes have not ignored the Folkhalsomyndigheten’s advice is because they have more faith in their health agency. One reason is that ministers cannot interfere in it. Sweden is a country famed for its world-leading public policy, which is why the relaxed approach still has potential there.
If Stockholm can curb the number of coronavirus cases in its country and retain the lax measures it has so far, it would prove that all the politicians who have adopted more draconian measures miscalculated the best way to deal with coronavirus. But if the country’s health agency and Löfven both get their joint approach horribly wrong, it has the potential to shatter trust in Sweden’s respected institutions. There is a lot at stake here and the eyes of the world will be watching this Scandinavian country closely for the first time.