Responsiveness of the health system and the private sector
With the epidemic reaching Sweden later than Asia or Southern European countries, the country had a short but significant time to respond to the danger. Aware of its main weakness in this crisis (of all OECD countries, it has the lowest number of hospital beds, at 2.4 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), the Swedish health system quickly declared a "crisis situation" for hospitals in the capital. It is worth noting that Sweden is among the most generous countries in the European Union in terms of health spending, after Norway, Germany, and Austria. According to a 2017 study by the OECD and the European Commission, 11% of Swedish GDP is dedicated to the health system, compared to a European average of 9.8%.
In the first few days of April, intensive care capacity more than tripled in the Stockholm area, according to TT, the national news agency. The field hospital in Älvsjö, about ten kilometers from Stockholm, with an additional capacity of 140 patients, quickly opened its doors to lighten the capital’s burden.
With regard to healthcare workers, more than 100,000 of them attended online training sessions on combatting the risk of contagion and raising awareness of the protective measures to be taken. At Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, nurses were trained over 3 days to work as intensive care assistants.
Unfortunately, these efforts did not succeed in curbing the excess mortality in April. In Stockholm, the morgues quickly filled up and some refrigerated containers were placed outside hospitals in the heart of the capital. The deceased in Sweden are predominantly elderly, with 87% being over 70 years of age (63% over 80 years of age).
For its part, the private sector played its part from the onset of the crisis. Essity, a Swedish company specializing in hygiene products, has manufactured millions of masks since the beginning of April to support the care system and meet the needs of the Swedish people. In another example, to increase the production of ventilators in the country, medical equipment company Getinge has been "loaned" approximately 50 employees from Scania, a Swedish truck manufacturing company owned by Volkswagen. Furthermore, clothing giant H&M has adapted its production at a factory in China to provide long-sleeved protective gowns for healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, Sweden's four largest cities - Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Uppsala - have agreed to contribute SEK 125 million to ensure the joint purchase of protective and disinfection equipment for their municipalities and the rest of the country.
"National recommendations" rather than strict measures
Much like the rest of the world, Sweden favors social distancing to effectively combat the spread of the epidemic within the country. In the northern city of Luleå, the social distancing scale of choice is that of a "small moose".