Sweden’s top epidemiologist explains country’s ‘trust-based’ approach to tackling coronavirus

Scandinavian country has kept schools, bars, restaurants and shops open through crisis

Samuel Osborne
Friday 24 April 2020 21:53
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Coronavirus in numbers

While much of Europe remains under lockdown as it battles the coronavirus outbreak, Sweden has adopted a different approach of keeping schools, bars, restaurants and shops open through the crisis.

The Scandinavian country introduced “trust-based” measures, advising older people to avoid social contact and recommending people wash hands, social distance, work from home where possible and avoid travel.

Anders Tegnell, the country’s state epidemiologist, has said it was “hard to understand” how implementing similar lockdown measures to other countries would have cut down on Covid-19 deaths in the Nordic nation.

Half of the country’s coronavirus deaths were in care homes, he said, where visits have already been banned.

“At least 50 per cent of our death toll is within elderly homes and we have a hard time to understand how a lockdown would stop the introduction of disease,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We already had a law making it illegal for visitors to come to elderly homes. They need constant care, they need a lot of people coming and going to take care of them.

“So it’s a bit unclear to us if a lockdown really would have stopped this from happening or not. It’s a difficult question and I don’t think we have the answer and I’m not sure we’ll ever get the answer completely.”

Mr Tegnell argued Sweden might weather a second wave of the virus better than other countries, because its measures can be kept in place for longer than the harsher lockdowns implemented throughout the world.

“We also have measures that we can keep on doing for a long time,” he said. “So I think that’s the other part of our reasoning, that we want to have something sustainable if we need to continue this suppression and mitigation that we are doing right now.

“We can go on doing this for a long time since our schools are still open, most of our society is working but on an adapted level. So if it looks like we’re going to get a second wave in the autumn with a lot of cases, we could easily continue doing what we’re doing today.”

Sweden’s strategy has been to slow the outbreak enough to allow hospitals to cope.

Mr Tegnell said at least 20 per cent of intensive care beds had been available throughout the country’s response to the virus.

Sweden has seen at least 17,567 coronavirus cases and 2,152 deaths.

On Friday, Swedish authorities threatened to close bars and restaurants that do not follow social distancing recommendations.

“We see worrying reports about full outdoor dining and crowding. Let me be extremely clear. I don’t want to see any crowded outdoor restaurants,” interior minister Mikael Damberg told a news conference.

The Swedish government asked the country’s 290 municipalities to report on how restaurants and cafes are following the Public Health Authority’s advice.

“These guidelines must be followed, otherwise operations will be closed,” Mr Damberg said.

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