Sweden’s herd immunity project

“Sweden will do it differently,” the Scandinavian country said ever since Europe went into corona mode lockdown in mid-March. And indeed, Swedes can – still – eat out, have a beer at a bar or go to the gym. Schoolchildren under 16 have not missed a day of school this year and meetings with fewer than fifty people are still taking place.

Travel and parties are not recommended, but they are also not forbidden. Even views on social distancing are more relaxed in Sweden than elsewhere.

Does Sweden take Covid-19 seriously enough? This question seems increasingly relevant, as the number of infections and deaths in many other European countries is stabilizing, but the charts in Sweden are still pointing quite steeply upwards. The number of deaths per million inhabitants, which was about half that of the France or Spain about two weeks ago, is now much closer. Mortality is particularly frightening in Swedish nursing homes.

The more the Swedish policy is coming under international pressure, the louder the makers of the plan say that their approach is hardly different from that in other European countries. “The uniqueness of Swedish policy is overestimated,” epidemiologist Tegnell said last week in an interview with the scientific journal Nature. “Like many other countries, Sweden wants to flatten the curve, in order to slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible, otherwise the health system and society will collapse.”

Achieving group immunity as quickly as possible is also not the goal in Sweden, Foreign Minister Ann Linde emphasized in an interview with The Guardian earlier this week. “There are really a lot of misunderstandings in this area.” Linde referred to the police closing five bars in Stockholm last week. “We have always said that we are ready to impose more binding rules if the population does not follow.”

Not only it’s neighboring countries are critical. Last week, a group of 22 prominent Swedish academics published a letter in Dagens Nyheter criticizing the government and epidemiologists on arrogance and calling for more stringent measures. “We in Sweden believe that we are better than others and that we don’t have to listen to the WHO, which is stupid,” the protagonist of the protest, epidemiologist Bo Lundbäck, said.

However, the majority of the Swedish population is satisfied with the relaxed policy by international standards. Support for the government has been continuously growing in the polls for the last two months.

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