Sweden’s lax COVID-19 approach has triggered polarising reactions across the globe, ranging from admiration to scepticism. Still, many more Swedes have fallen sick and died of coronavirus than elsewhere in Scandinavia.
The leaders of two Swedish opposition parties, the Christian Democrats and the Sweden Democrats, have revealed that the government and the responsible authorities discussed the broad spread of the coronavirus in society in a bid to increase immunity in the population and avoid what was then seen as the second wave.
Christian Democrats leader Ebba Busch Thor accused the government of purposefully allowing the coronavirus to spread in society and revealed that she had personally witnessed how Prime Minister Stefan Löfven discussed “the benefits of greater spread of infection”.
“We have participated in meetings with the prime minister and the responsible heads of authorities who reasoned about the benefits of greater spread of infection, that we would achieve immunity faster than other countries, yet it has turned out to be seriously wrong, they should have dared to admit this earlier”, Busch told the newspaper Aftonbladet, urging the government to conduct a self-investigation or resign.
A similar picture was painted by Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson.
“I have participated in party leader deliberations since March, and for me it has always been obvious that the government, its support parties and responsible authorities have advocated the idea that broad, general spread of infection would give Sweden advantages over other countries”, Åkesson wrote in a series of tweets. “We would thus achieve a higher degree of immunity sooner and thus avoid a second wave. I have since the start of the pandemic argued that Sweden’s strategy must be based on a precautionary principle. The government chose a different path. The result is nothing to be proud of”, he added.
A recent report by the Finnish Sitra fund has suggested the Swedish government tried to influence Finland to follow the same COVID-19 strategy as Sweden and at least not close schools. According to the report, Sweden objected to Finland’s restrictions in the spring and even pressured Finnish decisionmakers to keep their society as open as possible. “There was no desire to imitate Sweden”, Sitra adviser Matti Mörttinen said. The Swedish government provided no comment, the newspapeer Expressen reported.
Stockholm’s maverick mask-free no-lockdown approach to the coronavirus pandemic has polarised the domestic and international public since the onslaught of the pandemic. The authorities, including state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is largely seen as the mastermind of the Swedish strategy, have come out with conflicting messaging about its approach. While repeatedly denying that so-called “herd immunity” is the goal, Tegnell nevertheless admitted that it would be a desirable outcome. On the local lever, however, regions such as Norrbotten County openly pursued a controlled spread of the infection to build up herd immunity.
Sweden’s substantially higher death toll compared with its neighbours and the mixed messaging have undermined the public’s trust in the authorities and their strategy, according to recent polls. Over a matter of months, confidence in the Swedish Public Health Agency slumped from 71 percent in October to 47 in December.
In this context, it is rather symbolic that King Carl XVI Gustaf himself delivered a rare reprimand to those in charge, suggesting that they have “failed”.
Sweden, a nation of over 10 million, has witnessed more than 523,000 cases, with over 10,200 fatalities. This is much more than the 1,700 in Denmark, over 600 in Finland, and 500 plus in Norway.