Sweden’s deadly COVID-19 response

Healthcare
Astrid Paulsson
Issue 
1268
Sweden
COVID-19
herd immunity
June 4, 2020

Sweden’s death-rate from COVID-19 has topped the rest of the world on a per capita basis on several occasions since the pandemic started. Sweden recorded the most coronavirus deaths in Europe per capita over the seven days that ended on May 29, according to Our World in Data, a research publication produced by the University of Oxford and backed up by researchers at Imperial College, London, which argues that Sweden also has a high prevalence of spread of the virus.

Swedish authorities claim the figures are wrong and are standing by their much-criticised “herd immunity” strategy.

Several national newspapers also report that there has been a sudden and huge drop in support for the Swedish government ‒ falling by 11% percent to 48%. Support for the national health authorities has also fallen from 78% to 70%.

It has also been reported that the official death toll may be under reported. It has been estimated that about 1000 extra deaths need to be accounted for, giving Sweden approximately 5350 deaths by the end of May.

Far-right party the Swedish Democrats, together with the Christian Democratic Party and the Moderate Party are calling for an investigation into why so many elderly people have died from COVID-19.

Norway and Denmark have now announced they will open their borders for international travel, but Swedes remain unwelcome and cannot enter.

Swedish health authorities have made claims about being the best in the world at dealing with the pandemic. They have also criticised countries like Italy for having far worse health preparedness and being ill-suited to deal with a sudden pandemic.

In response, the Italian ambassador to Sweden publicly criticised Swedish health authorities for slandering the Italian health system. The Italian ambassador wrote that the Italian health care system is one of ‒ if not the most ‒ well-functioning health care system in the world and that they did the right thing to enter a full lock down.

Measures taken in Sweden have been very minimal. The public health agency urges people to be responsible, stay home if they have symptoms, and keep socially distancing. Yet hairdressers, cafes, restaurants and shopping centers remain open.

Media reports suggest that Sweden will start rationing soon, placing purchase limits on certain foods. Public places remain open and large gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed. Playgrounds, schools and daycare centres are open as usual.

Apparently authorities are monitoring mobility via mobile phone traffic, but there has been no call for a COVID-19 phone app.

Authorities have announced that Swedes will be allowed to travel abroad for the mid-year northern summer holidays, but it remains to be seen whether other countries will be open for Swedish visitors.

Inconsistencies in announcements by Sweden’s State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell have been reported from February onwards, yet, surprisingly, Swedes have been high on trust.

On April 28, Tegnell told USA Today: “We could reach herd immunity in Stockholm within a matter of weeks.

“Coronavirus is not something that is just going to go away. Any country that believes it can keep it out (by closing borders, shuttering businesses, etc.) will most likely be proven wrong at some stage.

“We need to learn to live with this disease.”

Tegnell told CNN on May 3: “We have a very flat curve” and “The ICUs have never been overburdened”.

However, Newsweek reported on May 7 that Tegnell had also “admitted he was ‘not convinced’ the unconventional anti-lockdown strategy was the best option to take” and called Sweden’s death toll a “horrifyingly large number”.

The Swedish government has yet to demonstrate any scientific basis for their strategy and lack of measures.

Now, months into the pandemic, the Swedish health agency and others have apologised for miscalculating how much the disease has spread, and that Sweden has failed to protect their elders.

It was also revealed in early May that healthcare workers in one of Stockholm’s major hospitals, who tested positive for COVID-19, were urged to continue working as long as they were “asymptomatic”.

Sweden decided early on not to roll out mass testing, judging it to be “pointless”. When Norway, which has reported far fewer COVID-19 deaths, reached about 120,000 tests, Sweden had only conducted 50,000.

Could the death rate be much higher in Sweden, given the decision to test less? It remains to be seen, perhaps for years to come.

Swedish authorities have said they are going to speed up testing, but have yet to do so and the nation is said to lag behind what has been done in other countries such as South Korea.

Some argue that the Swedish authorities are under counting or even hiding statistics from the public to create a false sense of trust.

75% of all aged-care facilities have been reported to have the virus.

The Swedish media have also ignored the WHO’s updated guidelines (released on June 6) encouraging the wearing of face masks in public to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

In Sweden, no one wears a mask. A news search on the Swedish term for face mask (ansiktsmask) returns no new hits and the news links are only to old articles questioning the science behind wearing masks.

When the authorities announced that Swedes would be allowed to travel domestically again, online domestic travel sites were overwhelmed. A site where houseboats can be hired on Gotland, a popular tourist island off the east coast crashed. Ticket sales for the Swedish railway increased by several hundred percent.

Unions are reporting that workers in aged care lack hand sanitisers, PPE, safe working procedures and even knowledge about the disease, but managers claim this is false.

Reportedly, care workers are working long hours under bad contracts, with little ability to take any safety measures. But despite ongoing alarm, nothing has been done, and the Swedish strategy remains intact.

Critical voices in the mainstream media argue that deaths in Sweden could have been avoided, and some call it a human rights violation allowing so many deaths especially of the elderly.

People criticising the Swedish government’s response are accused of spreading fake news, engaging in a “whisper campaign” or are being called out as insensitive to science.

The models and estimates on which the Swedish health agency bases their calculations, are quite different from that of other countries. So far, they are said to be based on “mathematical equations” and anyone who wants answers is quickly silenced in the media.

Sweden’s approach seems to be to keep mental health afloat, keep children in schools to keep them healthy, and keep people at work as much as possible to avoid job loss.

According to MIT News, stronger measures in the pandemic lead to a better recovery financially and socially, but the Swedish response remains reliant on the public’s own responsibility to socially distance.

Still in the midst of the pandemic, Sweden is now entering a mass depression. Joblessness and a high death toll threaten the wellbeing of the population.

[Updated on June 7.]

Sweden decided early on not to roll out mass testing, judging it to be “pointless”.

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