Swedish scientists call on the government to change its approach to pandemic

Sweden's softer approach to containing the coronavirus is coming under even more scrutiny as death rates leap ahead of its Nordic neighbours. As of Wednesday, a total of 1,203 people had died from nearly 12,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – a far higher rate than Finland, Denmark and Norway, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.

"The authorities and the government stupidly did not believe that the epidemic would reach Sweden at all," Bo Lundback, professor of epidemiology at the University of Gothenburg, told AFP. In contrast to Nordic neighbours and most of Europe, Sweden has not imposed extraordinary lockdown orders. Instead, it has called for citizens to take responsibility and follow social distancing guidelines along with stronger measures such as banning gatherings of more than 50 people and halting visits to retirement homes.

Despite international attention and domestic debate, the government has maintained its course, taking its cue from its expert authority, the Public Health Agency.

Lundback and 21 other researchers urged the government to reconsider and institute "rapid and radical measures" in a joint article in Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Tuesday. But officials insist their plan is sustainable in the long-term, rejecting drastic short-term measures as too ineffective to justify their impact on society.

Last week, health officials announced 40% of deaths in the Stockholm region , the epicentre of the epidemic, could be traced to retirement and care homes. One-third of the country's municipalities had reported cases in retirement homes, public radio reported in early April. The government has had trouble explaining the outbreaks.

The virus in Sweden has also disproportionately affected those born abroad -- the Public Health Agency pointing out that this was true whether the people hailed from Africa, Europe or the Middle East. According to figures released last week, some of Stockholm’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where many immigrants live, were up to three times more affected than the rest of the capital.


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