Australia Misinterprets Corona Sweden
This current affairs piece from Australian TV last week is based on the short term. It is also somewhat ill-informed. There was no graduation for the final year high school students this year in Sweden, as depicted in the front image from the Australian TV program. Huge sections of the Swedish economy are gone — closed down. In Stockholm there are no planes in the sky, no concerts and nightclubs are deserted. Tourism is at a standstill and hotels are empty. Theatres, libraries, cinemas, museums and opera houses are all closed.
Meanwhile youth unemployment in Sweden is now at 29,8% for May 2020, an increase of 6,1% on the same month last year and the highest figure since the mid 1990s. The overall unemployment rate for May 2020 is 9%, not 7% as is stated in the film. During week 26, the total number of unemployed people was just over 465,000. This is an increase of almost 38 per cent compared to the same week last year and corresponds to almost 128,000 more people who are now unemployed.
The only strategy against COVID that really is not present in Sweden is enforced isolation in the home etc. People can move around, go to work and even meet outdoors in open places. But the appeals to remain at home and practice social isolation are everywhere in media and public spaces and many people seem to be following them. I see people wearing masks and face shields all the time (not that I go out much — just to the shop and occasionally to see friends as I had COVID in March and have now fully recovered).
The lack of wide scale testing in Sweden was a policy decision, not the result of ‘a shortage of kits’ as is alleged in the Australian TV piece. In the early stages of the pandemic in Sweden resources were focused on care of the infected. But when it was clear that the health care system could cope with the number of cases, then testing began to be rolled out in larger numbers. But this only happened a couple of weeks ago.
The centre of Stockholm is not bustling these days. It is a ghost town compared to its normal activity. The social Södermalm area (an island just to the south of the main city area) is more active, but many more people live there and the ‘life in the streets’ is often just the locals getting around between home, job, shopping. There is still a lot of activity in cafes, restaurants and bars. However, several bars have been closed permanently by health authorities because they did not follow social distancing rules.
The grieving are rightfully unhappy with the situation, as depicted in the Australian TV program. A lack of strategy for caring for immigrant communities is also rightly criticised. The failure to address minority communities illustrates an overly monocultural attitude in much of the governance and public policy of Sweden. This is a contentious topic in Sweden and it will continue to effect all aspects of Swedish society unless some basic changes are made to the policies around education, administration and democracy in the country.
I do not believe ‘herd immunity’ was ever a consideration in the Swedish strategy against the pandemic. The aim of the Swedish approach has always been sustainability. As the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said in April; “We have chosen a strategy of trying to flatten the curve and not get too dramatic a process, because then the healthcare system probably will not cope,” he said. “But it also means that we will have more seriously ill people who need intensive care, we will have significantly more deaths. We will count the dead in thousands.”
This pandemic could go on for another year, or longer. State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has said, “It is important to have a policy that can be sustained over a longer period, meaning staying home if you are sick. Locking people up at home won’t work in the longer term. Sooner or later people are going to go out anyway.” If we compare it to the last global pandemic, the so-called Spanish Flu caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus, it lasted from February 1918 until April 1920, with four waves. A later study of that pandemic found that measures such as banning mass gatherings and requiring the wearing of face masks could cut the death rate up to 50 percent, but this was dependent on them being imposed early in the outbreak and not being lifted prematurely. Many nations are now lifting their hard lockdowns after only four months. Current death rates and new infections are dropping in Sweden:
Even a vaccine will not end the COVID pandemic immediately. It will take time to vaccinate populations and many countries, including the USA do not have the public health infrastructure to implement such a program. We are still in the first wave. The true mortality rate is not yet clear, and the economic consequences are also unknown at this stage. What is clear is that COVID is the most extreme health emergency the world has seen for many years.