Coronavirus: Sweden continues to resist lockdown measures despite jump in cases

Finland tightens border controls amid concern at its neighbour’s lack of testing

Peter Stubley
Tuesday 07 April 2020 18:28
Social distancing measures comparatively relaxed in Sweden

Sweden is facing increasing pressure to impose a coronavirus lockdown after the number of deaths rose by nearly 20 per cent in a day to 477.

The government has so far resisted calls to shut down pubs, restaurants, offices and schools, and gatherings of up to 50 people are still permitted.

This is the same approach taken by the UK before Boris Johnson announced a lockdown on 23 March as the UK death toll rose to 335.

Sweden has, however, avoided using the term “herd immunity”.

On Monday, the Swedish public health agency, or Folkhälsomyndigheten, announced 76 new deaths, the largest daily rise so far. On Tuesday, it announced another 114 deaths, but cautioned that some of these had been in the previous days.

The total death toll is now 591.

Authorities claim the number of cases is decreasing, with 376 on Monday, down from over 600 on Friday. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 7,693, with more than 3,000 of those in Stockholm.

Sweden tested only 12,300 people in the week leading up to 31 March, far lower than the 300,000 a week in Germany and 70,000 in the UK. The Scandinavian country has a lower population of 10 million, however.

It has prompted concern in neighbouring Finland, which announced tightened border controls on Tuesday to restrict entry to only the most essential workers until 13 May. Hundreds of healthcare employees living in Finland cross the northern border with Sweden every day.

“Finland considers it indispensable that Sweden instructs its healthcare personnel to better protection and increases testing of these groups,” the government said.

The Swedish government is now expected to put forward a bill to ask parliament to grant it wider executive powers for three months, including the right to shut airports and railway stations. It is not yet clear when any vote will take place.

“We have seen how quickly the situation in Sweden and Europe can change and we see a need for more possibilities to be able to react quickly if the situation demands it,” health and social affairs minister Lena Hallengren said in a statement.

However, the government also indicated it would keep domestic air travel open by taking over eight routes to northern Sweden and the island of Gotland.

Prime minister Stefan Löfven said he trusted Swedes to “behave like adults” and follow social distancing guidelines while state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said he was “very sceptical of lockdowns”.

But last week a petition signed by more than 2,000 doctors, scientists, and professors called on the Swedish government to tighten restrictions and enforce strict containment measures.

“We’re not testing enough, we’re not tracking, we’re not isolating enough – we’ve let the virus loose,” said Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “They are leading us to catastrophe.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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