By Grace Girling
Sweden has become a major talking point in the media recently for their unconventional reaction to COVID-19. The Scandinavian country, with a population ten million strong, is often praised for its approach to welfare and is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world. However, Sweden has came under international scrutiny following their negligent response to COVID-19.
The country adopted a very relaxed attitude to social distancing; most businesses remained open and a nationwide lockdown was not introduced. The government has recommended its citizens work from home where possible but has not made this mandatory. Most schools remain open. This peculiar strategy has quite predictably crashed and burned. Sweden’s Nordic counterparts Denmark and Norway, the former of which has a population density far higher than Sweden, boast a far lower death rate than Sweden, whose case numbers have recently skyrocketed above 14,000.
The strategy has been justified by its creator Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist. He claims that the strategy attempts to flatten the curve and slow the spread of infection like any other – it is essential, he argues, for a large part of the population to acquire immunity, despite the WHO’s recent announcement that there is no evidence to suggest that those who have recovered from coronavirus are immune.
A similar ‘herd immunity’ strategy was adopted by the UK before an exponential increase in deaths forced the government to change course. Tegnell told local media that the latest ﬁgures on infection and death rates indicate that Sweden is near its peak and the situation is beginning to stabilise.
Although it is easy to criticise the lack of action taken in Sweden, there are factors that problematize country-on-country comparison. Demographically, the population density is far sparser in Sweden (25 people per square kilometre, compared with Britain’s 259). Half of Swedish households also consist of a single person, making viral transmission occur far slower than in places like London.
There is some indication that Sweden is finally preparing to increase restrictions. Parliament has passed a new law that gives the government additional powers to adopt emergency measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. The new law gives the government temporary power to close businesses, shut down ports and airports and limit public events, offering a glimmer of hope for the future and a stark warning for other nations considering a foolish ‘no lockdown’ strategy.