By Aumid Umary
Sweden is the only country in Europe with no lockdown measures in place. Despite its neighbours all imposing quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing rules, Sweden decided to defy this rule. Restaurants, shops, cafes, bars, and schools remain open across the Nordic nation. In Sweden, it is business as usual. Sweden has always been an open, free society and a global pandemic is not enough to change it. Sweden’s death toll increases slowly compared to the United Kingdom, which makes sense considering Sweden’s smaller population of 9 million compared to 67 million.
Trust between citizen and state plays a vital role in the Swedish government’s decision not to impose state lockdown. Sweden likes to self-proclaim itself as an egalitarian, liberal society which influences its socio-political landscape in times of crisis such as this one. The strategy’s objective is to build a foundation of immunity all the while safeguarding vulnerable cohorts such as the ill and elderly.
Though the move may seem idyllic in concept, it has proved rather controversial. In major cities such as Gothenburg, Malmo and Stockholm, new cases reached a plateau with no new reported cases.
Herd immunity is described as usually achievable through vaccination or when over 50% of the population are immune. Since a vaccine is not underway any time soon, scientists are studying the relation between infection and recovery and whether it results in long-term immunity. On the other hand, coronavirus reinfections had also been reported, though at an insignificant scale.
Although, this move had faced public criticism from scientists, experts and medical professionals who have warned it could lead to catastrophic consequences. Sweden’s death toll is higher than that of Germany, the United States and Iran when population size is taken into consideration.
Melinda Bjork is a Swedish citizen residing in the UK who studied political science at the University of Gothenburg. Bjork shares her views on Sweden’s lockdown measures.
Assemblies of over 50 persons are banned in Sweden along with nursing home visits. Other than that, social distancing is merely advised as opposed to enforced.
The World Health Organisation warned that it is unknown whether patients develop a natural immunity after contracting the coronavirus initially.
Instead of a government sponsored draconian law to contain the virus, citizens are entrusted to follow self-regulatory hygiene rules such as keeping a safe distance from each other, washing hands and covering sneezes or coughs. One may argue that this is more burdensome, however, the statistics convince otherwise.
Sweden recorded 172 deaths and 682 fresh cases as of 22 April 2020. This totals to a total toll of 1,937 which is surprisingly far lower than the UK’s 18,100 deaths despite lockdown measures beginning on 23 March.
The country’s capital of Stockholm accounts for over half of Sweden’s death rate as one would expect considering it being also the country’s largest city. The peak of infections in the city was in mid-April. Swedish head epidemiologist estimates that herd immunity could prevail in the capital within weeks.
The main factor in high mortality rates for the virus in Sweden is due to its introduction in elderly shelters. This is due to the elderly having a weaker immune system and prone to underlying health conditions which make them more at risk from coronavirus-related deaths than the younger generations.
Sweden is issuing coronavirus screenings of roughly 20,000 people every week with plans to increase the count to 100,000 within weeks.
Economically, the UK is worse off thanks to the strict measures taking place in the form of lockdown. Sweden does not seem to have the same issue economically. Britain is suffering the biggest recorded slump as of April 2020 due to businesses forced shut and workers instructed to not leave their premises except for key workers such as the NHS. Economists likened the slump to the recession of 2008 and 2009. The coronavirus is especially affecting UK service sectors such as the hospitality industry due to the closures of pubs, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and cafes.
Sweden’s tactics rely on voluntary measures to reduce the spread of the outbreak in order to assist the medical sector in tackling the disease. In hospitals, empty beds are noticeable at intensive care quarters. Authorities have opposed calls to shut schools and warned about the negatives of a total-lockdown to both health and the economy.
In terms of international relations, Sweden closed Chinese state-funded educational programmes as diplomatic relations between China and Sweden worsened amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Whether the UK should adopt the Swedish model of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak should be up to those mostly affected by Britain’s lockdown measures such as service sector workers, students, the working class, the middle class and the poor who cannot afford to not work for a long period of time. The UK’s population must also be considered when asking this question.