Sweden's anti-lockdown strategy seems to backfire as PM Stefan Lofven warns nation of innumerable deaths

The Scandinavian nation's initial call to leave it to people's common sense has come under the scanner as COVID-19 death toll goes past 400

                            Sweden's anti-lockdown strategy seems to backfire as PM Stefan Lofven warns nation of innumerable deaths
(AP Photo)

While the rest of the world remained glued to the massive fight against the outbreak of COVID-19 that has claimed over 1.2 million lives globally, Sweden decided to take the opposite route. The Scandinavian nation opted to be an outlier by not going for a lockdown and advised limited restrictions and left it to the people’s common sense. As the world debated over Sweden’s fate, its prime minister eventually came up with a dangerous prediction and it is about bracing for innumerable deaths.

Stefan Löfven, who has been in office since October 2014, came up with his grim forecast that Sweden could see a big surge in deaths after doctors and academics in thousands slammed the nation for showing a lenient approach towards the pandemic. 

Sweden has so far seen 6,830 confirmed cases of coronavirus while the death tally is 401

Löfven, a social democrat, warned the citizens of Sweden, a nation of 10 million people, told local daily Dagens Nyheter: “We will have more seriously ill people who need intensive care. We are facing thousands of deaths. We need to prepare for that.”

Last week, Carl-Henrik Heldin, the chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, wrote along with 2,000-plus medical experts and academics urging the Swedish authorities to take proper preparations against the outbreak. Some also wanted the capital, Stockholm, to be locked down after some 50 senior citizens died from the virus in care homes. 

Stefan Lofven, Prime Minister of Sweden speaks during IOC Announcement at SwissTech Convention Center on June 24, 2019, in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Getty Images)

The Swedish premier has since then warned about an impending crisis saying even if the country was not as badly hit as other European nations like Italy (over 15,000 dead) and Spain (over 12,000 dead), it did not guarantee fewer deaths. 

Norway and Finland go under lockdown

Bars, eateries, schools and office buildings have remained open in Sweden, much to the amazement of other European nations that are coping with unprecedented levels of outbreak and casualties. Two of Sweden’s neighbors, Norway and Finland, have seen a much less extent of the outbreak and deaths so far. While Norway has 5,687 cases and 71 deaths so far, Finland has 1,927 cases and only 28 deaths. Both Norway and Finland have opted for lockdown with Finland even considering closing down its borders with Sweden, its western neighbor. 

While Sweden initially allowed gatherings of up to 500 people, its death toll of 400-plus now has started shifting the focus. 

PM Löfven also appeared to play down Sweden’s approach when compared to other states, saying his country also wanted to put less pressure on its hospitals. “I don't think you ought to dramatize [the differences],” the 62-year-old said. “We're doing it in a different way. Sometimes that is because we are in different phases [of the pandemic].”

After the situation started looking less than hopeful, the size of the permissible gatherings was reduced to 49 from 499 and bars and restaurants have been asked only to offer table service. 

While experts like Olle Kampe, a professor of endocrinology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, claimed the government was cynical in its dealing with the virus thinking people would attain herd immunity, Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist leading a coronavirus strategy, felt the most important measures had already been taken, the Daily Mail reported

“Stay home if you feel ill; work from home if you can; and ensure that we protect our older fellow citizens. You could alter other rules, such as those governing trips to the restaurant or gatherings, but you get the best effect when everyone simply sticks to the basic code of conduct,” Tegnell said. 

While political experts like Nicholas Aylott, who teaches at Stockholm’s Sodertorn University, said the unique approach that Sweden took against the outbreak was partly rooted in a national ‘exceptionalism’ emphasizing on a younger and healthier population compared to other European nations, the tug-of-war between Sweden’s political class and the civil service could also be a factor, says the Mail report. 

In Sweden, ministers lay out policies but the mode of implementing them is decided upon by experts which means people like Tegnell are more responsible than the premier himself in making the pandemic strategy.