The Lovehate for Sweden’s corona Strategy

Was Sweden’s unusual tackling of the corona pandemic the right choice?

The way in which Sweden has approached the corona virus pandemic has become a focus of debate. Many other countries had a so called ‘hard lockdown’, meaning there were temporary strong restrictions of movement and freedom, quarantine. People might have been prohibited or limited to stay in their homes or nearby areas, and/or away from certain public places and gatherings.

With Sweden doing a more soft version, mainly trusting it’s citizens of being responsible and letting people roam around more freely and keeping most places open, the strategy seems quite controversial. Since Sweden has seen a rather high number of deaths in relation to the number of inhabitants, it’s understandable that the strategy has been questioned by numerous people, politicians, media and newspapers, articles, nearby countries and it’s own citizens. Donald trump has for example said that “Sweden is suffering greatly” and WHO warned that the risk of being infected by the corona virus in Sweden is high, but then changed opinion and said that the situation is stable after reviewing the facts later. The neighbouring countries Norway, Finland and Denmark have also been criticizing Sweden’s strategy and have had strong border restrictions coming in from Sweden. Many other countries have imposed mandatory mouth covers in all public places and other strict measures, but not Sweden.

The public health agency and the state epidemiologist of Sweden, Anders Tegnell, keep referring to studies and are refusing to impose mandatory mouth covers for the Swedish population. It is discussed that it simply don’t work well and that it might give a fake sense of personal safety. It is put in relation to an increasing amount of new cases in southern and central Europe, for example in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where there are demands on wearing mouth covers.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. Credit: Jonas Ekstromer/TT

Although the approach seems soft, several efforts and restrictions have been put in place and are aiming at these goals:

  1. Limit the spread of infection in the country
  2. Ensure that medical and care resources are available
  3. Limit the impact on critical services
  4. Alleviate the impact on people and businesses
  5. Ease concern
  6. Implement the right measures at the right time

The restrictions that have been implemented are the following:

  • Closed borders from outside the EES area and Switzerland.
  • Gatherings of maximum 50 persons. Includes all cultural and event based gatherings.
  • Prohibition to visit elderly care facilities.
  • Mandatory to stay at home from work and school while having any sickness symptoms. People must be free of any fever and corona symptoms for at least 2 days before returning.
  • Restaurants and bars are only allowed table serving, and must ensure a distance of 1 meter between parties.
  • Recommendations on keeping a general social distance of 2 meters and not travel more than 2 hours (by car).

There has been alot of talking about herd immunity and that it’s what Sweden has based its strategy on, but it was never the government’s goal. What is herd immunity? It is described as when a high amount of the population has contracted a disease, the chance of others in the population becoming infected is reduced drastically. As people who get infected and after are getting well, immunity is spread in the so called heard.

According to the official Government offices of Sweden, the Swedish corona strategy is as such:

“The overall objective is to reduce the pace of the COVID-19 virus’s spread: to ‘flatten the curve’ so that large numbers of people do not become ill at the same time.”

The government has repeatedly described it as “a marathon, not a sprint”. Debated as it may, here are the numbers:

As of September 16th 2020, the number of deaths in Sweden is 5860. Source: The Swedish public health agency. This equals about 567 deaths per 1 million inhabitants. The number of new infected this day were 230. This is how the charts look like at the time of writing:

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/sweden/

Statistics can also be found on the Swedish health agency website.

According to the graphs above the peak in number of deaths is in the first half of April, then it keeps lowering and flattening out. The peak of new cases is in the second half of June, then rapidly declined and has been flat since. This tells us a couple of things. First of all, it seems Sweden got struck somewhat suddenly and unprepared. The number of deaths climbed rapidly, then something changed. It is debated that if Sweden did a hard lockdown at this time it would have been hit less severely. Although there might be something in that, there is also another side to it as well.

Breaking it down and looking at it with a magnifying glass shows us that most deaths happened in the ages of 70+ and at an excess in 80+. While we all heard that elderly persons are at a higher risk of being seriously ill or even fatally ill of Covid-19, it doesn’t tell us everything. What about other countries? Isn’t there an elderly population in many other European countries? Well yes there is. And how does it look there? Well, the story is similar in some countries like Italy and Belgium, which were struck hard. But slightly different in other nordic countries, which has also seen a lower number of overall cases. Norway has for example managed better to protect it’s elderly population. The Swedish health agency has admitted that the protection of the elderly in Sweden has been a failure, even though it was said that they would do exactly just that, protect the elderly. Most politicians in the government has admitted the same thing. Although measures were put in place early on, it didn’t quite work. Why was that?

A couple of months later and the answer is coming into light. The elderly care in Sweden was already flawed when the pandemic struck. To some people, this is not news. The debate has been going on for a long time about the mismanaged elderly care system and hourly based staff. Now though, all the spotlights are pointed directly at it. The Swedish Health and Social Care Inspectorate is conducting as we speak a new scrutiny of all the elderly care facilities to find all the risks and put in place new routines and measures to ensure that the elderly is well protected and getting the care they are supposed to get.

So what exactly has been going on in the elderly care in Sweden during the corona pandemic, and before it struck? A bunch of mixed stuff it seems:

  • The main problem is that there is alot of temporary staff which is working at an hourly based salary. They simply can’t afford to stay at home sick, so they have been working anyway, making their colleagues and the elderly sick. This in turn meant that some personnel were absent, putting more stress and pressure on those at work.
  • Protective equipment and extra supplies arrived late and in a much too small amount, so it couldn’t be distributed everywhere equally.
  • Routines haven’t been followed up on properly which in combination with stress and poor management has been causing bad judgement and errors.
  • Cutdowns of the elderly care has previously been made time to time in some areas which meant that the number of personel and equipment was already at a low level.
  • The elderly care in Sweden is partially privatized which means that it is partly driven by profit, possibly making the quality of the care lower.

Sweden has alot to learn from these things and it seems that the politicians are catching on. A new corona commission has been established and more resources will be put into the elderly care. New routines and education of the healthcare personnel has already been put in place.

It seems now that the overall Swedish corona strategy is working, when the number of cases are increasing in some other countries around but the curve in Sweden stays flat. Here is a chart showing Sweden in relation to a couple of other countries:

Sweden in the middle next to Egypt, showing a flat curve.

Source: https://www.svt.se/datajournalistik/the-spread-of-the-coronavirus/ Data from Johns Hopkins University.

And here is another chart showing Sweden in comparison to Norway, Denmark, Spain, the UK and Italy:

Sweden with an opposite looking comparative curve in purple.

Some countries have started to look at and learn from the Swedish strategy, especially when the economy benefits from it, not being at a complete shutdown, saving jobs and businesses. Perhaps a full on quarantine lockdown isn’t the answer in the future, but lies in responseability, education and resources? Only time will tell us.

Marcus Segerros is a freelance Writer, Content Creator, Designer, Engineer and Business owner with a double BS and University Diploma Degree.

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Marcus Segerros

Just an ordinary geek passionate about tech, products, interior, design, music, writing, reading, lifestyle, traveling and more. Web: www.marcus-segerros.com