Sweden’s Different Response to COVID-19 Based on Mutual Respect and Trust

Sweden’s Different Response to COVID-19 Based on Mutual Respect and Trust

Story Highlights

  • Unlike most other countries, Sweden has not enforced nationwide lockdowns and home quarantines to combat the spread of COVID-19, instead relying on individual citizens to voluntarily follow the government’s suggested guidelines for social distancing to protect the vulnerable.
  • So far, both the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are higher in Sweden than in neighboring Nordic countries, but Swedish authorities have maintained their approach is scientifically sound and are hoping to soon achieve natural herd immunity.
  • Some, like Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization, have praised Sweden’s less restrictive approach, while others have criticized it as putting too many people at risk for infection and fatal complications.

As many countries around the world remain under national lockdown conditions that include widespread home quarantines and closing of schools and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden has taken a more relaxed stance to dealing with the new coronavirus.1 Unlike most countries, including neighboring Norway, Finland and Denmark, Sweden has not closed businesses, primary schools, restaurants, parks or other public gathering places, instead urging citizens to “act responsibly and follow social distancing guidelines.”

Sweden has a population of about 10 million people,2 and the population characteristics of Swedish society contributes to the feasibility of the more relaxed guidelines. For example, as many as 40 percent of Swedish households are made up of single adults without children, which automatically builds in a certain level of “social distancing.”3

Strong Government Recommendations for Social Distancing

Sweden has not confined the whole population to home quarantine or closed down its economy. However, it is not really “business as usual” in Sweden either. Government health officials have issued strong recommendations for social distancing to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 complications and death and the sick are quarantined, but the guidelines remain voluntary in most cases.

Although the government is poised to impose stricter disease control practices if necessary, Sweden has a long history of respect and trust between the government and the people. Opinion polls show that 48 percent of the population has a high or very high rate of confidence in the trustworthiness of public health officials.

With regard to COVID-19, the Swedish people are generally keeping with their traditional trust in government health officials and the disease control strategies they recommend. The politicians, in turn, are trusting the people to follow the advice given by the government.4

Sweden Hopeful It Is Nearing Peak Infection Period and Herd Immunity

Although authorities warn it is too soon to draw any conclusions, they say the numbers suggest that Sweden may be just about over the peak infection period, with a flattening curve both for new cases and for patients admitted to intensive care units. According to Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, who is described as the architect of Sweden’s COVID-19 response approach, the latest figures on both number of infections and deaths are starting to stabilize.

In early April, Dr. Tegnell said that COVID-19 would be controlled by “herd immunity or a combination of immunity and vaccination.”5 In late April, he and other Swedish public health officials commented that Sweden’s peak transmission period of COVID-19 infections may have occurred around the Easter holiday and that case reports suggest Sweden is currently in a peak infection phase and could achieve herd immunity soon.6

What Is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity is a term that is often used to describe the proportion of people in a population who have been vaccinated, although it is also used to describe the proportion of people in a population who have acquired natural immunity from experiencing and recovering from an infectious disease. According to the Farlex Medical Dictionary, herd immunity is defined as:7

The resistance to invasion and spread of an infectious agent in a group or community, based on the resistance to infection of a high proportion of individual members of the group… A measure of the transmission potential of a disease, which corresponds to the number of secondary infections produced by a typical case of an infection in a population that is totally susceptible, and can be quantified by counting the number of secondary cases following the introduction of an infection into a totally susceptible population. Herd immunity occurs when a significant proportion of the population (or the herd) have been vaccinated, and this provides protection for unprotected individuals.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity,” and that for COVID-19, “based on early estimates of this virus’s infectiousness, we will likely need at least 70% of the population to be immune to have herd protection.”8

Disagreement Among Swedish Health Officials

There has been some pushback from many infectious disease specialists in Sweden, who argue that there are too many unknowns about COVID-19 and it is too contagious and deadly to wait for a large enough proportion of the population to develop herd immunity by experiencing and recovering from the infection. Nele Brusselaers, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology, even questions whether recovering from COVID-19 infection provides any immunity at all. He said, “Herd immunity doesn’t make sense because we don’t know whether or not you can become immune…this is a virus that can kill anybody.”9

Dr. Tegnell denies that seeking COVID-19 herd immunity without implementing any type of intervention was ever part of their plan.10 In an Apr. 28, 2020 interview with USA Today, Dr. Tegnell explained, “We are trying to keep transmission rates at a level that the Stockholm health system can sustain. So far that has worked out. The health system is stressed. They are working very hard. But they have delivered health care to everybody, including those without COVID-19. That is our goal.”11

Higher Mortality in Sweden, Especially in Nursing Home Patients

Sweden has reported a significantly higher number of cases and deaths compared to reports from other Scandinavian countries, particularly among nursing home patients. This fact has led many to question Sweden’s disease control strategy, with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven admitting, “The protection for people in elderly care should have been better… We need to look closer at what has gone wrong.”12

As of May 15, 2020, Sweden has reported more COVID-19 cases and related deaths than have been reported by neighboring countries:13

  •    Sweden:     29,207 cases and 3,646 deaths (population about 10M)
  •    Denmark:   10,791 cases and 537 deaths (population about 5.8M)
  •    Norway:      8,196 cases and 232 deaths (population about 5.5M)
  •    Finland:      6,228 cases and 293 deaths (population about 5.5M)

The COVID-19 case and death numbers for countries are updated daily here.

Strong Guidelines, Voluntary Compliance Define Sweden’s Measured Approach

In a briefing to the World Health Organization (WHO), Sweden’s Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren outlined the nation’s measured approach to the coronavirus pandemic.14 She explaining that “fundamental characteristics of the Swedish society,” such as its publicly funded universal healthcare system, have allowed the country to be more flexible in its response and allowed the government to quickly change course and impose stricter regulations, if deemed necessary.

The key elements of Sweden’s COViD-19 response plan, as it stands now, echo procedures being followed in other countries, although most disease control measures in Sweden are still voluntary in contrast to involuntary lockdowns implemented in the U.S. and other countries:

  • The Swedish government accepts final responsibility for protocols but is following the recommendations of its own expert agencies, as well as those of international powers such as the WHO.
  • Top priority is being given to protecting vulnerable groups such as the elderly, which now includes a ban on visitors to nursing homes and strict recommendations limiting social contact for people over age 70, both urging the elderly themselves to stay at home and advising against visiting elders in the community.
  • Key tools include recommendations for social distancing and providing incentives for people to stay at home. Pointing to Sweden’s “generous welfare system” that makes it easier for people to stay home if they are sick, Minister of Health Hallengren says both employees and the self-employed are now able to be paid sick leave from the first day and are no longer required to have a doctor’s certificate.
  • Public gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.
  • Tools are in place to facilitate social distancing by providing online education for upper secondary schools (high school) and university education.

In concluding her address, Hallengren said:

There is no unique Swedish way of dealing with COVID-19. We share the same goals as other countries, we face the same challenges as other countries and we use similar tools as other countries. We do what we think works best for Sweden in our national circumstances. And we are always prepared to implement stricter measures if necessary.15

Experts Are Divided in Support of Sweden’s Tactics

Urging everyone to remain calm, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has asked Swedes to “behave ‘as adults’ and not to spread ‘panic or rumours.’” However criticism of the government’s response to COVID-19 continues. More than 2,000 doctors, scientists and professors signed a petition at the end of March that called on the government to impose far more stringent disease control measures. Professor Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, a virus immunology researcher at the Karolinska Institute warned, “We’re not testing enough, we’re not tracking, we’re not isolating enough—we have let the virus loose… They are leading us to catastrophe.”16

Countering criticism of Sweden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director for Health Emergencies for the WHO, praised the more measured approach Swedish health officials have taken. Dr. Ryan said that Sweden may provide the best model for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic because it is sustainable over the long term, commenting that:17

If we are to reach a new normal, I think in many ways Sweden represents a future model—if we wish to get back to a society in which we don’t have lockdowns.18


References:

1 Rolander N. Sweden Says Controversial Virus Strategy Proving Effective. Bloomberg/MSN News Apr. 20, 2020
2 Worldometer. Population of Sweden.
3 Godin M. Sweden’s Relaxed Approach to the Coronavirus Could Already Be Backfiring. TIME Apr. 9, 2020.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 See Footnote 1.
7 Farlex Medical Dictionary. Definition of herd immunity.
8 D’Souza G, Dowdy D. What is Herd Immunity and How Can We Achieve It with COVID-19?” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Apr. 10, 2020.
9 See Footnote 3.
10 Reynolds E. Sweden Says Its Coronavirus Approach Has Worked. The Numbers Suggest A Different Story. CNN Apr. 28, 2020.
11 Hjelmgaard K. Swedish Official Anders Tegnell Says ‘Herd Immunity’ In Sweden Might Be A Few Weeks Away. USA Today Apr. 28, 2020.
12 See Footnote 1.
13 Worldometer. COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic: Reported Cases and Deaths by Country. May 15, 2020.
14 Speech By Minister For Health And Social Affairs Lena Hallengren At WHO Briefing 23 April. Government Offices of Sweden Apr. 29, 2020.
15 Ibid.
16 Robertson D. ‘They Are Leading Us To Catastrophe’: Sweden’s Coronavirus Stoicism Begins To Jar. The Guardian Mar 30, 2020.
17 Villasanta A. Coronavirus Update: WHO Praises Sweden For Resisting Lockdown Despite Growing COVID-19 Cases And Deaths. International Business Times Apr. 30, 2020.
18 Elder L. Sweden: Coronavirus and the Concept of ‘Trade-Offs’. Real Clear Politics May 7, 2020.

16 Responses to "Sweden’s Different Response to COVID-19 Based on Mutual Respect and Trust"

  1. Lawrence   May 18, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    This need to compare Sweden with other Scandinavian countries makes little sense. Why not compare it to ALL countries, then we can see it is doing about average in cases and deaths? THAT is what is crucial. It shows how social distancing fails. The weak and vulnerable are dying in spite of lock downs.

    Reply
  2. ktuffm   May 18, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    unfortunately this would be impossible in the united states because of republicans.

    Reply
    • Boomer   May 19, 2020 at 4:57 am

      I think you are confused.

      Reply
    • crcryer   May 19, 2020 at 8:33 am

      Not sure if this is just an opinion or based on study. After researching, I found, statistics show more Democrats support the lockdown measures.

      Reply
      • Deplorable   May 19, 2020 at 10:43 pm

        Most Democrats seem to approve of totalitarianism and prefer government control instead of individual responsibility.

        Reply
  3. Scott   May 18, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    Neighbouring countries to Sweden may have lower mortality rate now. But who’s to say that when these countries finally lift the restrictions, with lingering cases of COVID-19, they won’t surpass Sweden’s rates. It could very well be that all we are doing by isolating ourselves is delaying the inevitable. Every country who is isolating its population must wait till there isn’t a single case of COVID-19 to be safe from experiencing mass infections. But by then the countries will be bankrupt.

    Reply
  4. Patricia V. Sampe   May 18, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    The Jury is out yet. Sweden has many more deaths than it’s neighbors, and most of these are the older people in Sweden. It is a testament, on what a society values, and it looks like Sweden does not value their elderly.

    Reply
  5. Mark Bachelder   May 18, 2020 at 10:47 pm

    I so appreciate the even-handed presentation of information on this website. Not just pushing a particular point of view, but giving us great quantities of high-quality information. This article is a great example of that – it gives us many of the opposing views to the policies of Sweden, but no pat answers. This is good democracy, thank you Vaccine Reaction!

    Reply
  6. Timothy   May 19, 2020 at 10:28 am

    I don’t know if the story I read about Taiwan in GreenMedinfo.com was true or not, if true wow.
    Posted on: Saturday, May 2nd 2020

    Reply
  7. Jack Heginbotham RN   May 19, 2020 at 10:34 am

    We really need to stop looking at CoVid-19 test results as a legitimate number. Goats & PawPaws have tested positive and there are way too many completely without symptoms testing positive. The symptoms of blood clotting and the inability of red blood cells to transport oxygen distinguish this “mystery disease” from all other known respiratory diseases. If it doesn’t look like a duck, doesn’t quack like a duck and doesn’t walk like a duck: it probably isn’t a duck. I think we have high incidences of Nursing Home Deaths because they were given a higher percentage of vaccines contaminated with a blood borne virus … which is likely anaerobic. If Fall vaccines are again contaminated this year, we will have a second wave as promised by the “Experts”. The next time they may start contaminating vaccines meant for younger people…

    Reply
    • Vicki Takacs   May 24, 2020 at 5:37 am

      It was papayas not pawpaws as only America has pawpaws. The subs messed up there. What if it was worse than contamination because this is the first thing I’ve seen that makes sense. Covid-19 is a vaccine reaction. SARS-COV-2 is an exosome being excreted by cells due to toxicity induced by the vaccine (FYI:
      An exosome is literally indistinguishable from what they are calling a “corona virus”). People in nursing homes, managed care facilities get their flu shots. People with co-morbidity issues get their flu shots. The sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt all got their flu shots. Gulf War syndrome was caused
      by an “Anthrax vaccine”. When the soldiers came home, they passed the syndrome to their family members through intimate contact. SARS-COV-2
      was recently discovered in the sperm of infected individuals. It is an exosome. These COVID-19 cases are not the result of a “virus”; they are the result of
      intentional poisoning. And who stands to profit most from it? The same industries that caused the problem in the first place and the globalists who want to take away our rights.
      Guess who has been using poison for decades? They tried to assassinate a leader in Iran with a poison they sprayed on him and it affected his brain which interfered with his respiratory system and shut down his breathing. They were caught escaping and made to hand over the antidote so he lived. Guess who has the lowest rate of Covid in the world. When asked how they could already be testing a vaccine they said that some years ago they picked this virus to experiment with and that it was a lucky guess. Right….

      Reply
  8. Kate B   May 19, 2020 at 11:30 am

    “Dr. Ryan said that Sweden may provide the best model for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic because it is sustainable over the long term”

    This is the defining sentence of this article.

    Reply
  9. Brian James   May 19, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    Mar 19, 2020 Defense Sec. Mark Esper on mobilizing the U.S. military to fight COVID-19

    Judy Woodruff: Is there a conflict, Mr. Secretary, between having these service members do their jobs, protecting the country, and keeping them safe from COVID-19?

    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/defense-sec-mark-esper-on-mobilizing-the-u-s-military-to-fight-covid-19

    Mar 29, 2020 Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in 2017 there WILL be a “surprise outbreak” coming administration will face

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, stating in January 2017 there WILL be a “surprise outbreak” the coming administration will face.

    https://youtu.be/JvXb6Rt3tKM

    Reply
  10. Brian Willich   May 19, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    I have to hand it to the Swedish government for respecting thier people’s rights. It might be because all of thier people own Fully automatic weapons issued by the government when they were trained which is mandatory over there. America could learn a thing or two from them.

    Apr 3, 2020 Could Sweden’s controversial COVID-19 plan pay off?

    Sweden is an outlier, determined that it has a smarter strategy for dealing with the virus – but as the pandemic worsens, is the nation blindly heading for a cliff edge?

    https://youtu.be/_PqmgzDZB3g

    Reply
  11. DrJ   May 20, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    Your succinct comment is the best on the page IMO. While as you said, the jury is out, the data already shows the chilling reality about Sweden’s elderly. I am disturbed by Dr Mike Ryan’s (director emergency WHO) opinion/comment on Sweden’s approach that it may be the way to go. And as another comment has pointed out, this is a very risky virus with which to be playing the roulette game of “herd immunity.”

    Reply
  12. Vicki Takacs   May 24, 2020 at 5:13 am

    That is not true. Our country and others murdered their elderly in nursing homes by making them take in sick patients just released by hospitals. Sweden didn’t do that if this article is correct. See Governor Cuomo of NY, nursing homes.

    Reply

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