|Sweden did not implement strict social distancing measures unlike other European countries. / Photo by Sussi Hj via Shutterstock|
Even when the Covid-19 death toll in Europe reached 40,000, Sweden did not implement strict social distancing measures unlike other European countries. This controversial strategy is proving effective, the country’s top epidemiologist said.
Sweden’s anti-lockdown strategy
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, the person behind the country’s relaxed response to the pandemic, told Bloomberg that their anti-lockdown strategy is starting to yield results. He said that based on the country’s fatalities and infection rates, it shows that the situation is beginning to stabilize. “We’re on sort of a plateau,” he added.
The Scandinavian nation has left its cafes, bars, restaurants, and schools open during the pandemic. The government simply urged its citizens to follow the social distancing guidelines and to act responsibly. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that the citizens should not spread rumors or panic and instead behave “as adults.”
This move, though, has triggered different responses both nationally and internationally as authorities have been struggling to contain the spread of the virus. Some have alleged that the anti-lockdown approach can endanger the lives of the citizens since the authorities have not implemented a strict enough approach to contain the virus.
Umea University’s virology professor Fredrik Elgh shared his comment via world news platform Anadolu Agency that he is “deeply concerned” and he would rather quarantine Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. He said that theirs is almost the only country in the world that is not yet doing everything it can to curb the virus.
Another expert, professor of epidemiology Joacim Rocklov, has also criticized the government’s approach in solving the pandemic. “How many lives are they prepared to sacrifice so as not to risk a greater impact on the economy?” Rocklov asked.
|The Swedish strategy has gained considerable interest worldwide. / Photo by A Kisel via Shutterstock|
Contrary to Tegnell’s comment, a study that appeared in the medical journal The Lancet found that the initial slowness of reaction from the US, Sweden, and the UK has become increasingly unwelcome. The initial “flexible” approach related to medical regulations and clinical trials adopted by the UK had already been abandoned. The public health authority of Sweden said that since the virus is new, they cannot pinpoint which groups are most at risk for severe illness. Nevertheless, Tegnell emphasized that the spread of the virus to the elderly residents in the country is a major concern.
Most emergency care facilities remain empty
The Swedish strategy has gained considerable interest worldwide. Part of their approach relies on having one of the best functioning healthcare systems in the world. The good thing about the country is that they don’t see a real shortage of hospital bed capacity and medical equipment. They have also set up tents around the country to serve as their emergency care facilities but most of these tents remained empty.
So far, the country has recorded 1, 540 deaths due to Covid-19. Such a death toll due to Covid-19 is considerably more than other Scandinavian countries but less than the UK, Spain, and Italy both in terms of relative and absolute terms.
The state epidemiologist is not the sole high-level authority in the country who claimed that their country may already be over from the worst. Sweden Public Health Authority’s head of microbiology department Karin Tegmark Wisell also said that the country has “a more flat curve” in recent days. This means that although there are many new causes, it does not show a daily increase. The number of Covid-19 cases is “stabilizing,” the official added. Wisell said that they are observing the same pattern for patients who are staying in intensive care.
Sweden’s closed Covid-19 cases
The Covid-19 death rate in the country reached 73.68% on April 19 from 73.31% a day before. Its present recovery rate is at 26.32%.
The increase in the number of Covid-19 cases was most evident on March 9 (260 cases). It increased to 4,028 as of March 30 and 13,822 on April 18. There were 606 new cases on the same day and 0 new recoveries.
Two weeks ago, the situation was bleaker and its Prime Minister said that they may have to review their approach amid the possibility of thousands of Covid-19 deaths. The weakness in their approach is the failure to protect those in the nursing homes, which contributed to the higher death rate in the country compared to their neighboring nations. PM Löfven said that the protection of the elderly “should have been better."
Share of the elderly in Sweden’s population
The share of the elderly in Sweden’s population has been increasing. In 2018, 19.9% of the population is 65 years and older, 5.1% are 80 years and older, and 1% are 90 years and older. The share of the elderly in 2019 reached 20% and only 5.2% of them are 80 years and older. The older the population gets, the more care is needed. This data was provided by German database company Statista. A considerable number of Covid-19 cases in the country were elderly and a high number of deaths were 70 years or older. Because of these, Statista believes that the share of the elderly population in the country may have a negative development for this year.
Despite death rates among the elderly, Löfven’s anti-lockdown strategy still won the approval of the citizens. The Prime Minister’s popularity even increased. Swedish luxury vehicle company Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in a phone interview with Bloomberg that although it is difficult to strike a balance, he has full confidence in the measures taken by the government.
Volvo is among the companies hit by the pandemic. It stopped its production across the continent and furloughed about 20,000 of its employees. Its Swedish plants will resume production on Monday. Samuelsson said that their measures are all based on taking responsibility, which is an important part of the approach taken by Sweden.
Scientific advisers to the Swedish government also believe in herd immunity, a form of indirect protection that happens when a large percentage of the population becomes immune to the infection. Medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases has published that if there is a large proportion of immune individuals in the community, there will be a smaller probability that non-immune people will acquire the virus.
The country’s unique response to Covid-19 may have won the praise of its people and from other nations abroad, but we should also note that some of the most prominent professors in epidemiology and infectious diseases in Sweden have criticized Tegnell’s policy choice.