Sweden has been under fire for failing to contain Covid-19 by seeking herd immunity. However, some experts here say it is still too early to call Sweden’s strategy a failure.
The Nordic country had 73,858 confirmed cases and 5,482 deaths as of Thursday. The mortality rate stood at 7.4 percent.
Kim Joon-ho, an associate research fellow at the National Health Insurance Service’s Health Insurance Research Institute, and senior research fellow Kang Ha-ryeom, published a report on Sweden’s distancing strategies to respond to Covid-19 in the latest issue of the institute’s regular online magazine.
According to the report, the number of confirmed cases in Sweden remained almost unchanged for two months after the first Covid-19 outbreak but started to spike after March 5. The country had the first Covid-19 death on March 12, and confirmed cases rose by 2,316 in April alone. More than 90 percent of Covid-19 deaths were seniors aged 70 or more in the Scandinavian country.
When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that the country would ban gathering of more than 500 people. With Covid-19 infections still spreading, Sweden enhanced social distancing measures to limit the number of gatherings to fewer than 50. Sweden does not recommend Covid-19 testing for those without any symptom and those not in high-risk groups.
According to the analysis by Sweden’s Public Health Agency of 1,104 blood samples in early April, 7.3 percent had antibodies to Covid-19 in Stockholm, 4.2 percent in Skåne, and 3.7 percent in Västra Götaland.
In a survey in March and April, more than 60 percent of Swedish citizens said they trusted the health authorities. In a survey on people’s support for political parties conducted in May, the ruling Swedish Social Democratic Party garnered the highest support rate with 33.7 percent. It was the highest support rate in the past three years, the report said.
The researchers noted that Sweden’s strategy to identify the current situation through expert opinions accurately is not much different from those of other countries that try to slow the spread of Covid-19 with no available vaccine or treatment.
“Rather than judging whether Sweden’s minimal countermeasures were successful, we need to understand why they chose such methods through looking into the country’s unique political, social, and cultural characteristics,” the researchers said in the report.
Professor Yoo Jin-hong of the Infectious Diseases Department at Bucheon St. Mary's Hospital said it is premature to conclude that Sweden has failed to respond to Covid-19 well.
In a contribution to the Journal of Korean Medical Science, Yoo said, “I do not think Sweden’s strategy has failed.”
“Sweden never let COVID-19 spread, and they did all the appropriate social distancing. They don't have strict lockdowns like border restrictions or school and workplace closures,” he said.
He went on to say that the current Covid-19 pandemic was just the beginning.
To see if the Swedish lenient strategy was wrong or more desirable than the strict one, people will have to look at the final result after at least one or two years, Yoo emphasized.
Yoo cautioned against looking at Sweden’s policy negatively or judging whether the Swedish policy was inferior to Korean or Taiwanese.
“At least at this point, they face a high number of confirmed patients and high mortality rates, but I think the Swedish strategy in the overall framework is also worth considering seriously,” he said.
Unless vaccines and antivirals are available, the war against Covid-19 will not end and repeat every year, Yoo said.
“Swedish policy may be difficult to accept emotionally with our viewpoint. However, I think it would be better to review Sweden's current policies as an alternative reference, instead of merely criticizing them,” he added.
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