The Swedish response model to the coronavirus pandemic became one of the most discussed in the world. Contrary to the vast majority of countries, which imposed more or less strict confinements, Sweden opted for a much more flexible approach, which enables people to leave their homes normally and keeps restaurants and schools open.
Both inside and outside the country, this strategy aroused much criticism and the health authorities were accused of being irresponsible. In fact, Sweden already registers 21,520 infections and 2,653 deaths, much more than any of the other Nordic countries .
Faced with the accusations, the argument of Anders Tegnell, the government’s chief epidemiologist, is that it is expected that a greater impact will be felt at first, but that this strategy is more sustainable over time than the more rigid isolation measures. Therefore, he affirms that the country will acquire mass immunity sooner – essential so that the virus is no longer a threat – and will stop feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier than others.
Sweden added an unexpected endorsement this week. The World Health Organization (WHO), which had promoted confinement as a strategy, praised Sweden as a model, especially for countries that are beginning to relax restrictions, which become unsustainable after a month and a half.
“I think if we want to reach a new normal, Sweden represents a model for returning to a society where we are not confined, ” said Mike Ryan, the WHO’s chief emergency expert.
In a press conference, Ryan denied that Sweden has allowed the virus to circulate freely, without doing anything. “I think there is a perception that Sweden has not taken control measures and has only allowed the disease to spread. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “It has established a very strong public policy around social distancing, around the care and protection of people in long-term care centers.”
But the key to the Swedish response is that, unlike much of the world, it did not rely on the imposition of the State on citizens, calling for fines and even arrests for those who do not comply, as has been seen in other parts. The priority was to persuade people to act responsibly.
“What he has done differently is that he has been very confident in his relationship with his citizens and in the ability and willingness of his citizens to apply distancing and self-regulation,” Ryan said. “In this sense, they have applied public policy through that association with the population.”
Parts of Sweden could achieve “collective immunity” to the advanced coronavirus in May, Tegnell said days ago. “According to our models [at the Swedish Public Health Agency], we are beginning to see so many immune people in the Stockholm population that it is beginning to have an effect on the spread of infection,” he said.
“These are mathematical models, they are only as good as the data we put in them. We will see if they are right,” he explained in statements to local media.