While most nations in the world relied on strict lockdown procedures to slow the spread of Covid-19, Sweden put only a few obligatory restrictions in place. That won high approval ratings for the government, but also resulted in a significantly higher death toll than in other Nordic countries, with elder-care homes affected particularly badly.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, whose role in creating the ‘Swedish model’ elevated him to a celebrity in the country and spiked interest internationally, insists his approach was right.
“So far, I think, even taking into account the excess deaths, it has worked,” the scientist told Italy’s ANSA news agency on Sunday. Closing down Sweden “would not have made that much of a difference, including in nursing-home infections.”
“Each death is an immense tragedy – it is terrible to see so many people die. But there are many other aspects to consider when evaluating a unique approach – for example, the damage that is caused socially in the long term,” he added.
In another recent interview, Tegnell admitted that the relatively high death toll was not something the government had projected when it was deciding on how to deal with the virus.
“We really thought our elderly homes would be much better at keeping this disease outside of them then they actually have been,” he told The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, adding that other countries had experienced similar problems.
When the coronavirus started spreading in Sweden in March, the government banned gatherings of more than 50 people, and ordered bars and restaurants to observe social distancing when serving patrons. But, otherwise, the response was a far cry from the full-blown lockdown that residents in other nations have experienced.
Despite some critical voices from the scientific community, the strategy has been highly popular among Swedes, with over half of them saying enough was being done.
The government pretty much asked citizens to go on with their lives, unless they had symptoms of Covid-19, and to voluntarily take precautionary measures where possible.
On the downside, the death toll in Sweden stands at over 3,600. Half of those aged over 70 died in elder-care homes – a fact that the government acknowledges as a major failure on its part.
Denmark, Finland and Norway, which have lockdowns, count their dead in three-figure numbers while having roughly half of Sweden’s population. Per-capita deaths in Sweden are more than four times higher than in Denmark and nine times higher than in Norway, according to national statistics.