The Swedish way - model or dead end?

From the beginning, Sweden refrained from adopting tough measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Its borders and primary schools have remained open and there are no restrictions on leaving home. However in view of the rising mortality rate critical voices are growing louder, also in Sweden. The divided opinions on the approach are reflected in the media.

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Expressen (SE) /

Passing the buck like a hot potato

Setting up a commission of inquiry to look into possible errors only after the crisis has ended is too little too late, Expressen says:

“The finger pointing has already started. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency failed to impress anyone during the pandemic, and Director-General Dan Eliasson has stated in several interviews that 'the Public Health Agency of Sweden is responsible for the crisis management'. Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren, on the other hand, emphasises that the regions and municipalities are responsible for the procurement of personal protective equipment. The buck is being passed around like a hot potato. The longer the government takes to set up a commission of inquiry, the more difficult it will be to determine what happened when Sweden went its own way.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SE) /

Pride before the fall

Denmark, Finland and Norway are considering excluding Sweden from the border openings currently under discussion. Svenska Dagbladet is not surprised:

“In the short term, the Swedish government has managed to avoid strong encroachments on personal freedoms, for which it was quick to pat itself on the back. However that will all be in vain if it now turns out that our reputation has been damaged to such an extent that we have to stay outside while the rest of Europe is opening up again. ... Sweden's leaders have often stated that of course Sweden is doing the right thing, and that one would be foolish to proceed otherwise. This quiet but nonetheless arrogant nationalism could now cost us dearly.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Better equipped for the second wave

In the long term Sweden's strategy could pay off, writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The gradual loosening and opening up of borders throughout Europe is nothing more than the partial transfer of responsibility from the state back to the citizens: keep your distance, do business with precautionary measures, stay at home if possible - this has long been the case in Sweden. Whether or not it will work depends to a large degree on the extent of the feared 'second wave' of infections. And in this respect Sweden could be better equipped than other countries. If Swedish chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell's claim that by not imposing lockdown 40 percent of Stockholm's population will be immune to the coronavirus by the end of May is correct, then Sweden would have a big advantage in the race against the 'second wave'. It would then claim far fewer victims.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

We are guinea pigs in a reality show

Czech author Kateřina Janouchová, who has been living in Sweden since 1974, voices her concerns about Stockholm's policy in Mladá fronta Dnes:

“We are participants in the world's largest experiment, and nobody knows how it will end. This country is divided into two camps. Surveys say that trust in our chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is growing with each passing day. The personality cult is turning him into a father of the nation. People are having his picture tattooed onto their bodies. Critics, on the other hand, call him 'Dr. Tengele', and accuse him of coldly sacrificing the elderly. ... Like many others, I wear a protective mask, wash my hands frequently, maintain a greater distance than usual in Sweden and pray that I'll stay healthy. But if you suspect that the tolerant Swedish way might have something to do with the fact that we don't have enough protective clothing, you'd better not say it out loud.”

Contrepoints (FR) /

Stockholm not the one doing crass experiments

Stockholm's strategy will serve as an insightful counterexample, writes Johan Norberg, a Swedish author and advocate of globalisation and individual freedoms, in Contrepoints:

“We need different solutions to see what works and what doesn't so we are better prepared next time round. We need experimentation. That being said, it's not Sweden that's doing the experimenting but rather the other countries. Never before have we paralysed our societies and economies to this extent, and it will take a long time to comprehend the ramifications of such radical measures. I think that everyone, and especially those who have adopted an aggressive approach, should be happy that Sweden has chosen a different route.”

Delfi (LT) /

The particularities of Sweden

Political scientist Arvydas Guogis explains the background to Sweden's special policy on Covid-19 in Delfi:

“Sweden's approach to the Covid-19 crisis can be explained by the need to preserve the country's specificity: no one in Sweden is entitled to patronise anyone else. The future will show whether Sweden's current policy is the right one. It's important to emphasise, however, that in previous cases when Sweden has had to preserve its singularity it has generally been successful. ... One cannot claim that the last decades of globalisation have had no influence on Swedish thinking and politics. ... But Sweden has retained its strong old state structure and its most important features to this day.”

Ziare (RO) /

One must be able to afford laxity

Other countries won't be able to follow Sweden's example, Ziare stresses, explaining why:

“The Swedish theory is based on the principle that the more we try to protect ourselves from the virus with prophylactic measures, the more active and aggressive it becomes. What's more, by avoiding sickness we weaken our immunity instead of exposing ourselves to it, fighting it and winning - which would make us more immune in the future. … Just as a vaccine is a cure, you experience healing by going through the disease. So provided you have a well-functioning healthcare system [like the Swedish one] which guarantees recovery, it would even be acceptable to tough it out.” (UA) /

Swedes don't wait for orders from above

The Swedes simply have their own way of dealing with challenges, explains Marina Trattner, a Ukrainian lawyer who has lived in Sweden for 15 years, on broadcaster 24tv:

“I think there are two reasons why the Swedes have managed to get away with less stringent methods than most countries. Firstly, they introduced these measures very early on. Secondly, it is not the Swedes' style to wait for 'decisions from above'. They draw their own conclusions. Although keeping a distance of one and a half to two metres is recommended in Sweden, most Swedes keep a distance of four to five metres, and cyclists ten to twenty.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Economy getting off lightly

The Swedish experiment seems to be proving its worth, Swedish economist Fredrik Erixon comments in The Spectator:

“We are pretty far away from the levels of economic decline predicted for most lockdown countries. In fact, the Swedish economic situation looks sensationally positive when compared to the ghastly reports and scenarios elsewhere. ... The economy has to be factored into a balanced pandemic response if it is going to last for longer than a few weeks more. No country can sustain suppression policies if they have catastrophic consequences for the economy. ... Sweden won't be spared, but our economy will not be as ravaged as elsewhere.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SE) /

Sweden's experts off the mark

The Swedish Public Health Agency on Wednesday withdrew a study according to which there are 999 undetected cases for every proven case of coronavirus infection in the country due to a serious mistake in the calculations. This calls into question previous forecasts regarding herd immunity and comes as a major blow for former state epidemiologist Johan Giesecke, who likes to rely on his "gut feeling" when forecasting, Svenska Dagbladet writes:

“One should perhaps wait a little longer with the dreams of herd immunity. ... Studies from France, California and Wuhan show that the percentage of those already infected is in the single digits. Only Sweden has Swedish experts, nevertheless it's possible that experts from other countries can be right as well. ... One's gut feeling should tell one that self-assured statements should be treated with caution.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Neighbouring countries are better off

A comparison with other Scandinavian countries doesn't leave Sweden and its 10 million inhabitants looking all that good, Mladá fronta dnes sums up:

“Neighbouring Norway with its five million inhabitants has had to come to terms with 180 deaths as of yesterday. Sweden, however, has seen 1,580 deaths. That's a lot. Critics of the Swedish model are losing patience. They see it as leading to disaster. Its advocates, on the other hand, are saying everything is going according to plan. ... Denmark has taken a very different course of action. Prime Minister Mette Frederikson introduced tough restrictions that worked. Now the country can relax its measures. Sweden, on the other hand, is still waiting for good news.”

Expressen (SE) /

Decision must be taken quickly and centrally

Quick action is now needed, especially as regards medical supplies, Expressen warns:

“When the pharmacy monopoly was abolished ten years ago, there was no longer any need to guarantee the supply of medication. At the same time, healthcare is now very decentralised and municipalities and regions are responsible for organising their own crisis management. As we now see, this poses certain problems. ... Now the proposal has been made [in a government-commissioned report] to establish state-run pharmaceutical depots. ... This must be done fast. It's better to act quickly and make adjustments afterwards than to spend a long time thinking about how to best design the system - while the world is on fire.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

We have all failed

It is the fault of both the politicians and the population that Sweden is so poorly prepared for emergencies, Aftonbladet laments:

“In the Stockholm area there are too few intensive care beds even in normal times. The healthcare system has been whittled down to the bones. ... The army's field hospitals are impressive, but there are only two of them. If the worst comes to the worst, there won't be enough shelters, gas masks, medication or trained staff. ... The lacking preparedness for a crisis reflects a collective failure: on the part of governments of all stripes, of public debate as a whole, and of all of us who participate in it.”

Expressen (SE) /

Deceptive image of the Gallic village

Expressen warns against national arrogance:

Refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, gang crime - Swedish self-esteem has suffered in recent years. The corona crisis is now resuscitating a long-standing sense of self-righteousness. ... [People are proud of] independent authorities that maintain a certain distance from overzealous ministers. According to this narrative, the corona crisis in the entire industrialised world is playing into the hands of populist leaders who close borders and schools merely to show who's in charge. Did you say the entire world? No! Because one small country is successfully defying populism. ... To be sure, models with ministers who interfere in even the most minor details have drawbacks - in Israel and Hungary the dangers of a state of emergency are now clearly visible. But, in a crisis situation, it is also clearly beneficial for leaders to talk straight.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Experts can't replace politicians

Upsala Nya Tidning sees democratic shortcomings in the country's approach:

“Again and again we've heard that we have to trust the experts. Our ministers constantly stress that the government is following the advice of the respective public agencies. The recommendations of the National Institute of Public Health carry weight. So far, so good. Nevertheless, political responsibility must lie with the representatives of the people. ... Of course, the experts play an important role in the corona crisis. But weighing up the ethical, social and economic considerations must be the politicians' responsibility. And it cannot be delegated. It's not for nothing that we have elected representatives.”