Rogue nation’s coronavirus U-turn

By | September 23, 2020

Its controversial approach to tackling coronavirus saw life in Sweden continue largely as normal for many, but now the country may be forced to introduce new restrictions in the capital of Stockholm after a sharp increase in cases.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Sweden did not have a hard lockdown with schools and restaurants remaining open, while mask wearing was optional.

The unorthodox approach meant Sweden saw an initial high spike in cases and deaths, but by the end of June rates of infection had dropped dramatically.

By mid-July deaths were in the single figures and earlier this month it was faring better than Victoria, which was recording daily fatalities in the double digits.

But now as the rest of Europe battles a second wave of COVID-19, Sweden has found it is not immune after all.

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“Stockholm has seen a clear increase recently, across all age groups,” Sweden‘s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who has headed the country’s response, told reporters on Tuesday.

“We are discussing with Stockholm whether we need some additional possibility to take measures to reduce transmission.”

Stockholm health chief Björn Eriksson said the “downwards trend is broken”, with more than 1200 new cases in the city since Friday.

“The pandemic is still ongoing, and I am pretty exasperated by people who act as if this is over,” he said. “Everyone needs to help in reducing transmission.”

Dr Tegnell said experts were now finalising what restrictions may need to happen.

“We have a discussion with Stockholm about whether we need to introduce measures to reduce the spread of infection,” he said.

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“Exactly what that will be, we will come back to in the next few days.”

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Sweden has recorded 5470 coronavirus deaths, with almost half of them in Stockholm.

The country of 10 million has seen almost 90,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

It has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates per capita in Europe, behind Britain and Italy.

Unlike neighbouring Nordic countries, Sweden kept most schools, restaurants, gyms and shops open throughout this year.

Authorities encouraged people to work from home if they could and avoid taking public transport but did not make any of these measures mandatory.

The only bans were on gatherings of 50 or more, aged care home visits and restaurants were restricted to table service only.

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Dr Tegnell’s approach to coronavirus has been slammed by health experts who say it has resulted in too many deaths.

But last month a top official at the World Health Organisation praised Sweden‘s response, saying it had been appropriate for a population not used to tight government regulation.

“It tried to rely on individuals and communities to comply with the advice of government and it has tried to avoid imposing mandatory lockdowns, mandatory separation of individuals,” WHO Health Emergencies Program executive director Dr Mike Ryan said.

“That is the way in which Swedish people, the Swedish government interact.

“That is the social contract in Sweden.”

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