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Sweden’s approach to Coronavirus not the panacea we once thought

It doesn’t seem that long ago when the UK was in lockdown that all eyes were turned on the people of Sweden with envy who were enjoying what seemed to us the freedom of normality. Sweden became known for not implementing harsh lockdowns on its residents, unlike most other European countries. Schools, bars and restaurants were kept open, although residents were expected to adhere to social distancing guidelines. However, as it turns out this policy has now been severely criticised by Sweden’s political elite and an independent commission.

Misjudgement of the effects of the pandemic

Sweden's pandemic response has been criticised both by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and an independent commission. But both disagree on who is to blame.

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the country's officials did not adequately care for the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sounds familiar. He also said health officials misjudged the effect of the latest pandemic wave.

"I think that most people in the profession didn't see such a wave in front of them, they talked about different clusters," Lofven told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Later, an independent commission made up of political scientists, crisis management experts and public health experts, also published a report that criticised the response to the pandemic. However, they pointed a finger at Lofven and his cabinet.

"The government should have taken measures to ensure the elderly care was better equipped to deal with the pandemic," said Mats Melin, the commission chairman, at a news conference.

Sweden’s infections and death rates

Sweden has so far recorded about 341,000 infections and more than 7,600 deaths from the pandemic with one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. The commission stated that nearly 90% of fatalities were of elderly at least 70 years old and half of them were in long-term residential care.

Residential care unprepared and ill-equipped

The commission said there were "structural shortcomings that have been well-known for a long time" which "led to residential care being unprepared and ill-equipped to handle a pandemic." Such shortcomings included a lack of protective equipment and delays in testing.

The report warned of they described as "fragmentation" in the Swedish healthcare systems. Elderly care is divided between 21 regions and 290 municipalities. The officials said the regulatory framework should be reformed, and also urged improving staffing levels and training as well working conditions for healthcare workers.

Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said the Social Democrat and Green government was preparing new legislation to better regulate elderly care.

The commission concluded that the "ultimate responsibility for these shortcomings rests with the government in power – and with the previous governments."

A relaxed approach that did not work out

The relaxed policy adopted by Sweden, has led to the most deaths from the virus of any Nordic country by far, and at a much higher rate per capita. Sweden's statistical agency said that in November more than 8,000 deaths from all causes in the country was the highest overall mortality since the first year of the 1918 flu that ravaged the country.

Sweden has now started implementing restrictions, halting alcohol sales in bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. and banning public gatherings of more than eight people.

Summary

The population of Sweden has paid heavily for adopting a non-lockdown approach, suffering the highest mortality rate from the impact of the Coronavirus since the 1918 flu pandemic. The blame game has now come to the forefront with politicians blaming professionals and an independent commission putting the blame squarely with the Government.

In Sweden as in the UK, it is the residents in care homes who have suffered the most. The independent commission found that structural shortcomings have been well-known for a long time" which "led to residential care being unprepared and ill-equipped to handle a pandemic. Including lack of protective equipment and delays in testing.

It all sounds so familiar. Staff and residents in Sweden have endured the impact of the Pandemic without the support to do the job. In the end, it is the Government who are responsible for policy and the adoption of the non-lockdown approach.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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