Sweden is going through a pandemic with a completely different strategy than most countries. There is always a scientific criticism of this. An analysis of Sweden’s particular path shows that the country has made many mistakes and paid a high price for it.
Sweden is going through the crown pandemic on a special path that has been discussed many times. There is now a scientific assessment of the measures the country has taken to deal with Sars-CoV-2.
The analysis comes from the epidemiologist Nele Brusselaers, who researches and teaches at the Karolinska Institute. Together with her peers, she investigated the extent to which Sweden had a pandemic strategy before 2020, whether the strategy was science-based, and how it was implemented and mainstreamed into policy-making during a pandemic. The study, based on white papers, emails, and research, has been published in the journal Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.
Dealing with Coronavirus “morally, ethically and scientifically challenged”
In a study that is exclusive to Sweden and makes no comparisons with other countries and their measures, Brusselaers and her team focused on 2020 and delivered a devastating verdict. Consequently, the Swedish Special Route “was characterized by a morally, ethically and scientifically questionable laissez-faire approach.” Researchers arrive at this assessment by examining the pandemic strategy at four levels: a country’s pandemic preparedness, an assessment of the various actors of a pandemic, including errors and inconsistencies in recommendations and notifications, and consideration of the national health and social implications.
Sweden was properly armed to fight the coronavirus
Scientists estimate that seeing Sweden as a liberal country was more important than an evidence-based approach or saving and protecting people’s lives in the event of a high number of coronavirus cases. In 2020 alone, the number of deaths in Sweden increased to ten times higher than in other Nordic countries, such as neighboring Norway. According to data from the Swedish Ministry of Health, as of March 30, 2022, there were 18,365 deaths related to coronary disease in Sweden. That’s 178.55 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. For comparison: in Norway it is 46.83 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Sweden was well prepared for a possible pandemic when the coronavirus hit, according to the research team, and was able to build on years of trust-based collaboration between politics, administration and science. The country is wealthy, with an educated population that trusts the state authorities. In addition, health authorities prepared plans for various scenarios. Even so, almost nothing was used or implemented.
“The management of the pandemic in Sweden has been completely dominated by the health authorities,” the study reads. Nevertheless, in summer 2020, there was only one official crisis management plan, from the Ministry of Justice. The main goal was not to spread fear and panic, prevent social unrest and minimize the effects of a pandemic policy on industry, business and the hotel industry. However, there was no discussion about the health care of the population, the capabilities of the health care system or infection control measures.
“Niestrategia”: The lack of funds was criticized from the beginning
The Swedish pandemic strategy, which was later officially referred to as “non-strategy”, aimed to “natural” the herd’s resilience and avoid social exclusion despite the large number of people infected. In fact, in March 2020, Sweden only banned public gatherings for more than 500 people, and later more than 50 people. Schools remained open, digital or distance learning was only available to older pupils and students. Overall, recommendations and voluntary measures remained, legal restrictions and related regulatory measures, such as fines, have been lifted irrespective of the relevant cases.
Scientists are particularly critical of the fact that scientific discoveries and conclusions have been discredited by government agencies. They write: “The Swedes did not know the basic facts, such as the transmission of Sars-CoV-2 in the air, the fact that asymptomatic people can be contagious, and the face masks protect both the user and others.” Sweden recommended the use of face masks or protective clothing in hospitals and nursing homes only from June 2020, including when treating and caring for patients with Covid 19.
The role of children in the process of infection has also been underestimated. Internally, they were included in the considerations on achieving herd immunity, while publicly stating that “children play a negligible role in transmission and do not get sick.” In addition, while sufficient oxygen supplies were available, many older people were receiving morphine instead. As a result, their lives were “successfully ended.” People with severe illness sometimes did not receive adequate healthcare, and people with comorbidities were less likely to receive optimal care.
Sweden has shown no willingness to change
The claim in Sweden that the actions taken there do not differ from those in other countries are also considered particularly problematic for researchers. “Even after national and international criticism and condemnation of the official assessments of the ‘failed’ Swedish strategy by various (international) committees and working groups, there have been no drastic changes.” Even then, the scientific evidence continued to be ignored.
To date, there is no open, democratic platform for political decision-making or “shifts in responsibilities in a public health agency or government due to their inaction or suboptimal and unscientific / unprofessional ways of working”. The researchers concluded that if Sweden wanted to do better in future pandemics with a similar number of people infected, the scientific method would have to be restored.
They recommend the creation of a separate, independent institute for infectious disease control. Most importantly, they advise “starting a self-critical process regarding your own political culture and the irresponsibility of decision makers to avoid future failures, such as those experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.”