The Swedish special route, which relies on the immunity of as large a section of the population as possible, is controversial. Now the high death rate in April has given critics of the strategy a boost. Meanwhile, state epidemiologist Tegnell explains what he regrets most.
- Sweden had more deaths in April than it had since December 1993.
- This gives critics of the Swedish special path in the Corona crisis a boost.
- State epidemiologist Tegnell sticks to his strategy, but also regrets certain things.
- After all, there were positive developments in the number of reproductions in April.
In the Corona crisis, Sweden decided early on to take a special route. Unlike the rest of Europe, large parts of public life remained untouched and schools for children under 16, shops and restaurants were open all the time (20 minutes reported).
However, the Swedish approach was not and is not controversial. Now new figures from the Swedish statistical authorities should give critics of the special route a boost. According to this, 10,458 people died in Sweden this April alone – more than in any other month in the past decades. Or more precisely: as many as not since December 1993.
As many deaths in April as last in December 1993
In 1993, nearly 100,000 deaths were recorded throughout the year. The country had not seen such a high rate since 1918, when the Spanish flu was rampant in Sweden. There is no official explanation for the high number of deaths in the early 1990s. However, Sweden was hit by a severe flu wave that year, the world writes.
By Tuesday, Sweden had recorded almost 31,000 infections and 3,743 corona deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country thus complains of far more corona deaths than other Scandinavian countries that imposed strict exit restrictions.
The comparison with neighboring Denmark
A look at last week’s figures shows the difference between Sweden and its neighbor Denmark. The Swedes reported 69 new Covid 19 deaths and 673 new infections last Thursday, while the Danes had four more deaths and 46 confirmed new cases. The day before, on Wednesday 13 May, 147 deaths had been added in Sweden, in Denmark there were only six.
In total, Sweden has almost 31,000 infections and over 3,700 deaths compared to 11,117 infections and 551 deaths in Denmark, where only about half as many people live.
State epidemiologist Tegnell: «terribly sad»
Sweden also stands out with the highest numbers compared to the rest of Scandinavia. Nevertheless, the country of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is sticking to its strategy. The situation in the country is stable, Tegnell recently assured.
The epidemiologist focused entirely on immunity. In his view, immunity from as large a part of the population as possible is the key in the fight against the virus. But now the 64-year-old admitted on Swedish television: “The virus is much more unpredictable than expected.” Above all, he regretted not having put the focus on elderly care earlier. The elderly in retirement and nursing homes should have been protected earlier. “It is terribly sad that so many people in Sweden continue to die from the disease,” he said.
The situation among the older Swedes is indeed a significant problem: almost 90 percent of all Swedish corona deaths were over 70 years old. The government had urged this main risk group to avoid social contacts, and visits to retirement homes have been banned since April 1. Nevertheless, these homes have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, be it in the capital Stockholm or in other parts of the country: Around every second Covid 19 death in the country to date has been a resident.
“Strategy is based on a life-threatening concept”
The government also said the Swedes are keen to slow the spread of corona to prevent deaths and to avoid overburdening the health care system. “Sweden has the same goals as all other countries – saving lives and protecting public health,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde made clear on Twitter.
The measures taken were, however, much more moderate in Sweden than elsewhere: meetings with more than 50 participants are prohibited, only high schools and universities are closed. Otherwise, the government and the authorities mainly appeal to the common sense and common sense of their citizens. They ask them to keep their distance and to stay at home with symptoms – especially the latter is viewed skeptically by some scientists.
“The entire strategy of the Swedish health authority is based on a life-threatening concept: stay at home if you feel sick,” criticized the Stockholm virologist Lena Einhorn in mid-April. If you ask the sick to stay at home, you don’t have a large proportion of the infected in view, which not least means that the elderly is at risk of life, said Einhorn.
Researchers against “corona patriots”
With her criticism of the special route, she is not alone, as several opinions by Swedish scientists show. 22 researchers had already declared the health agency’s action to have failed in April. Others, however, continue to believe firmly in the anti-authoritarian and more liberal approach. This goes so far that some Swedes wear t-shirts with Tegnell portraits or get tattoos with their likeness. Even “Corona Patriots” and “Health Nationalism” are mentioned in the country’s leading newspapers.
Positive development in the R number
But there are also positive developments: The number of reproductions was almost continuously below 1.0 in the second half of April. This means that each infected person infects less than one other person on average. The number of new intensive care patients declines more or less regularly. And Stockholm is also discussing a possible approach to herd immunity, which could soon occur in the city as a consequence of the special route.
However, 22 researchers said last week in a new opinion that it was “unrealistic and dangerous” to rely on this strategy. “Instead of letting people die, we should keep people alive until effective treatments and vaccines can be used.”
Whether the idiosyncratic Corona strategy of the Swedes will work out in the end cannot be estimated even several months after the pandemic started. “We cannot draw any conclusions until it is over,” said epidemiologist Tegnell. Until then, according to Tegnell, at least a year is likely to pass.