STOCKHOLM -- After weeks of lockdown in the U.K., seeing people out in Stockholm‘s restaurants and bars enjoying some blissfully sunny weather has been a welcome shock to the system. But Sweden’s approach to the novel coronavirus is a controversial one.
It does seem that much of what has been reported in the foreign press misrepresents or over simplifies the situation in Sweden. It is not "business as usual" here. The government has just simply put more responsibility on the individual.
There is a voluntary lockdown in place. People are advised to work from home where possible and maintain social distancing. They are told not to visit elderly relatives and of course wash their hands. The local economy has still suffered.
With new numbers now suggesting Sweden has as many deaths per million of the population as some of Europe’s hardest hit -- like Italy and Spain -- government resolve will be tested. Sweden does calculate all deaths in the country -- as opposed to just hospital deaths -- which gives officials some space to argue for their approach. But if the numbers rocket, they’ll have to think again.
It's controversial not to have ordered a shutdown, but the government says it wanted to create a "livable lockdown" and this will continue for many, many months. Sweden's health care system was not overwhelmed with sick patients like so many other nations.
Authorities say COVID-19 cases peaked on April 15 and that 600,000 people in Stockholm will have been infected with the virus by May 1.
It is also the case that Sweden has taken a very broad view of the health challenges posed by a complete lockdown. Mental health and other issues -- perhaps not a priority elsewhere -- are generally just a bigger part of the health strategy here. This is probably the most defining aspect of Sweden's approach and speaks to a culture which values well-being in its broadest form.
No lockdown in any country is intended to avoid deaths altogether. Sweden’s gamble is that it doesn’t see a greater proportion of deaths -- directly or indirectly coronavirus related -- than countries that did fully lock down. Especially the ones next door.
It may be that the true scale of deaths is not yet known and the elderly will suffer. It’s too early to know. But this has certainly been a huge worry and source of criticism.
Opinion here is definitely divided. The whole thing is under-pinned by individual responsibility.
Maybe Swedes are good at that. But it’s also difficult to know for sure what to do in a pandemic, so the safest option would be to stay home.
Whatever the truth, there are a whole set of complex variables that mean it would be very hard for other countries to just "do what Sweden is doing." And they may, of course, have got it all completely wrong.