In Brief

Copy Sweden’s coronavirus response, says WHO special envoy

Expert calls for controversial Swedish response to Covid-19 to be adopted elsewhere - including New Zealand

A top World Health Organization (WHO) official has praised Sweden’s coronavirus response and suggested that more countries should follow the Nordic nation’s lead.

Dr David Nabarro, one of the UN health agency’s six special envoy on Covid-19, acknowledged “serious problems” in Swedish care homes, which led to a high mortality rate early in the pandemic, but said the country had showed how “you can go about life while having the virus in your midst”.

As Bloomberg reports, Sweden “imposed far fewer restrictions on movement than others, and instead relied on Swedes to act responsibly and embrace the guidelines laid out by the country’s health authorities”.

Sweden’s overall death rate of 57 per 100,000 people is the world’s tenth highest, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But unlike in many other European countries, the number of new cases reported in Sweden has been falling in recent weeks.

Over the past week, the tally of people testing positive has averaged 147 per day - equivalent to ten new cases per 100,000 people. The equivalent figure is 122 in Spain, 54 in France and 14 in the UK, according to Statista.

Even New Zealand, where only 22 people have died from Covid-19, could learn from the Swedish approach, Nabarro told Auckland-based Magic radio.

He praised New Zealand’s response as “strong from the start”, but said its strategy would have to adapt.

“Now of course comes the difficult part,” he said. “How do you keep the economy going, how do you maintain relations with your neighbours and how do you restart social and school life?”

Nabarro also warned against holding out for a vaccine. 

“I want us to learn to get used to living with this virus without hoping for a vaccine, because I’m really nervous that the world will go into some kind of suspended animation for a long period of time,” he explained.

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