As we discussed last spring, Sweden positioned itself apart from the rest of Europe in its management of the Covid-19 crisis: no obligation to wear a mask, no curfews, no restaurant or bar closures… but has this strategy paid off? After a committee of inquiry was appointed to investigate the successes and failures of this strategy, International Affairs Officer Anuchika Stanislaus asked Ulrika Björkstén, Head of Science at Swedish public radio service Sveriges Radio, about the results of this particular approach to managing the crisis, as well as the future of the "Swedish model."
What lessons can be drawn from the management of the first wave of the pandemic in Sweden, and how do these lessons guide the government’s current decisions?
As an outlier in their approach to this pandemic, Sweden’s record has been mixed. The government has put in place a broad information policy for the population and is communicating science-based "national recommendations," which are widely supported by a Swedish population traditionally inclined to follow scientifically validated measures. Although this approach has been successful in partially flattening the contagion curve, it has not succeeded in protecting the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to this virus. There was a much higher mortality rate in Sweden (58.36 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants) than in other Nordic countries (an average of 7.64 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants). Furthermore, lacking the necessary protective equipment, staff working with the elderly were not able to break the spread of the disease, which resulted in an accelerated rate of the virus spreading during the first wave.
Aware of these issues, the government intends to tighten its management of the crisis, despite lacking room for maneuver in the face of the unprecedented danger posed by the second wave.
Politically and legally, the Swedish government is not in a position to impose curfews or the wearing of masks, and cannot introduce measures as restrictive as those in France. In Sweden, we do not have "government measures" issued by the government as in France, but instead, the Public Health Agency (FHM) issues "general recommendations." It is quite different from the French system based on law and constraint; moral obligation is the fundamental underpinning of Swedish culture and is widely shared by its citizens. These "general recommendations" are therefore based on this. Legally, the private sphere is a space left free to citizens’ own choices. However, in classifying the coronavirus epidemic as a "public danger," the government reinforced the authoritative statements of the general recommendations that should be followed by citizens, although without the threat of punishment for any transgressions. However, while the recurring message of recommendations stressing the high degree of risk from this virus was sufficient to change behavior during the first wave, there was a general relaxation of the population during the summer.