In Focus

Is coronavirus outlier Sweden on the verge of a rules policy U-turn?

Stockholm passes lockdown law as infection and death rates continue to outstrip those of Nordic neighbours

Sweden’s “light touch” response to Covid-19 has made the Nordic country an outlier since the start of the pandemic – but all of that could be about to change. 

Rising numbers of infections and related deaths in Sweden have triggered a number of small but significant policy shifts by the government, which is now considering a lockdown law that would allow the authorities to shut down large parts of the country.

In early December, the country also reversed its guidance on face masks, advising Swedes to wear them on public transport during peak travel times, and gave schools the option to close to pupils older than 13.

Although “there has been no public abandoning of its approach”, says the Financial Times, the sudden change in direction signals that “the winter Covid-19 wave has hit Sweden far harder than health officials or politicians expected”.

“I don’t think Sweden stands out [from the rest of the world] very much right now,” Jonas Ludvigsson, professor of clinical epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, told the paper. “Most of the things that made Sweden different have changed - either in Sweden or elsewhere.”

However, “inconsistencies” in Sweden’s strategy are “catching even its leaders out”, Politico reports.

After spending “much of December trying to drill into the population the idea that personal responsibility would get Sweden through the Covid crisis”, a string of government figures are in hot water after being caught ignoring guidance to “avoid traditional Yuletide venues like malls - even if they weren’t closed - and skip holidays overseas”, says the news site.

Meanwhile, “Sweden is seeing around 60 to 70 deaths linked to the coronavirus per day, with a case notification rate that puts it as one of Europe's worst affected countries”, according to The Local.

The country’s intensive care beds are also filling up quickly, with “a total of 763 available places, of which 596 are occupied, 390 with Covid-19 patients, 55 more Covid-19 patients than one week ago”, the site adds.

But despite those alarming figures, Ludvigsson and Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell have both argued that their country and Europe are “coming to a unified approach” to the pandemic, says the FT.

Much of Europe is moving towards Sweden’s position on issues including the importance of keeping primary schools open, according to Ludvigsson.

 “He added that most countries had also switched their goal from defeating the virus to mitigating it, which had been Sweden’s official policy throughout,” the paper adds.

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