The Swedish “Model” for Battling the Coronavirus
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently described Sweden as a “model” for battling the coronavirus. “I think if we are to reach a new normal, I think in many ways Sweden represents a future model of — if we wish to get back to a society in which we don’t have lockdowns,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Emergencies Program, said. “They’ve been doing the testing, they’ve ramped up their capacity to do intensive care quite significantly,” he added.
“What it has done differently” he added, “is it has very much relied on its relationship with its citizenry and the ability and willingness of citizens to implement physical distancing and to self-regulate.”
As noted by Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at the Swedish Lund University:
Is Sweden, however, really a “model” to the rest of the world? Several of Dr. Ryan’s assumptions seem to be, at the very least, questionable.
As of May 6, Sweden, which has a population of 10.18 million people, had 2,854 deaths, which corresponds to 280.27 deaths per million people. In comparison, the other countries of the Nordic region, Denmark, Norway and Finland, which all went on lockdown, had 503, 215 and 246 deaths respectively, corresponding to 86.76, 40.46 and 44.58 deaths per million people, respectively.
Besides refusing to close down businesses, restaurants and schools, Sweden also has refused to close its borders, even to travelers from countries with large and uncontrollable outbreaks, such as Iran.
“Historically, it has not been a great idea to stop flights. The latest example is probably Italy. There they canceled all flights to China, but they still got a big outbreak,” said state epidemiologist and bureaucrat Anders Tegnell in late February. Tegnell has since become the face of Sweden’s coronavirus strategy. Tegnell stressed that stopping flights from Iran would complicate helping the country with its outbreak. “If you shut down [flights from] Iran, you cannot help the country with protective materials and such,” he said.
As late as February 29, for example, 11 planes from Northern Italy and 1 plane from Iran landed in Arlanda airport in Stockholm, but no measures were taken to check people for the virus or put them in quarantine. Flights from Iran were only stopped on March 2 and as late as March 5, Tegnell criticized the Scandinavian Airline SAS for stopping all flights to Italy, a decision that he said, “lacked medical and scientific basis”. Only on March 17, when the EU made its recommendation, did Sweden stop all non-essential travel to its airports. Despite that, 40 planes have landed every day at Arlanda airport in Stockholm, where travelers have not been tested for Coronavirus upon landing or asked to go into quarantine.
In late February, Minister of Social Affairs, Lena Hallengreen, said that she believed that Sweden’s readiness for the pandemic was “good”. Two months later, she told Aftonbladet that the strategy had been “a failure” with regard to the most vulnerable population group, the elderly. On May 5, the Sweden Democrats called for a special debate to be held in parliament regarding the deaths during the corona crisis in Sweden’s nursing homes.
“Sweden has twice the death toll as our Nordic neighbors combined. One of the reasons is that the government has failed to protect the elderly,” said the party’s group leader Henrik Vinge in a press release.
Sweden used to have a storage of seven million respiratory masks, as well as protective suits for adults and children during the Cold War. “The various types of respiratory protection were collected in emergency storages around the country with up to 250,000 pieces in each. The number varied depending on the size of the municipality. In the first decade of the 21st century, the stock was considered redundant and obsolete and everything was burnt,” states a brief text on the website of the Army Museum in Sweden. Although several of the masks were no longer functioning, 2.2 million respiratory masks were still adequate, but were burned anyway.
On March 28, realizing that Sweden was facing a shortage of protective equipment for medical personnel, Swedish regional authorities appeared simply to have lowered the protection requirements.
“Healthcare workers are worried that the country’s regions have lowered the requirements for personal protective equipment — for example, mouth protection will not be the standard”, noted Swedish Radio. According to Mia Lehtonen, a nurse at Karolinska’s staffing center and elected representative for the Healthcare Association:
In some hospitals health care personnel had to resort to protecting themselves with rain ponchos.
Despite the spread of the pandemic outside of Sweden — and neighboring countries such as Denmark and Norway locking down offices, businesses and schools — Tegnell opined that Swedish employees should not be allowed to work from home due to “equality” concerns:
Five days later, in mid-March, he encouraged people to think about working from home.
Even before mid-March, Sweden stopped testing how many people had been infected by the virus. “Now it is no longer important to know exactly how many people are infected in Sweden”, said Tegnell. Instead, authorities would look at how many people were committed to a hospital.
Some Swedish municipalities have even kept the number of infected elderly in their care a secret, according to Svt nyheter:
Criticism of the government’s strategy has been articulated by 22 scientists, who wrote that the pandemic was being handled by “officials without talent”. One of the scientists behind the criticism, Dr. Stefan Hanson, a Swedish infectious disease expert, told the Canadian Globe and Mail:
According to the Globe and Mail:
“The COVID-19 death rate [in Sweden] is nine times higher than in Finland, nearly five times higher than in Norway, and more than twice as high as in Denmark,” where there were lockdowns, Hans Bergstrom, former editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s leading daily newspaper, wrote in April.
Despite not going into lockdown, Sweden’s economy is still taking a hit, although less severe than other European countries. Many Swedes, particularly those who are older, are limiting social interaction, travelling less and therefore consuming less in shops and restaurants. Sweden has also been exporting less because of the lockdowns in other countries. “Sweden’s government estimates… a 6% contraction in domestic consumption this year. Combined with a forecast 10% drop in exports, Swedish authorities predict, the result will be a 7% decline in overall 2020 economic output” according to The Wall Street Journal.
WHO – and the media — might wish to reconsider using Sweden as a model.
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