Sweden has been a violator of the pandemic: it avoided shutdowns and kept restaurants, bars, schools, cinemas and gyms open for the most part. And while the death toll was high compared to its Nordic neighbors, they were comparable to those in major European countries.
Now a second wave has led to a new increase in infections and Stockholm’s rescue service is exceeded, which forces the authorities to recalibrate their approach. They introduced new restrictions at the end of November that make the country’s response somewhat more in line with the rest of Europe. They include drastic cuts in the size of public gatherings and some school closures.
But with ski lifts, restaurants and bars all open, Sweden’s stricter restrictions are still fading compared to the rest of Europe and there are growing fears that not enough is being done. Intensive care beds in hospitals in the Stockholm region are all currently occupied, said Björn Eriksson, regional health director, at a press conference on Tuesday.
“We are well over 100 percent of the capacity in intensive care. We are approaching almost double the number of available places, he says.
Since the pandemic began, a debate has raged both in and outside Sweden about how to stop the virus. When other countries were shut down in the spring, Sweden was open about concerns that keeping all the holes at home would have long-term harmful effects on children and adults and could lead to depression, suicide, deferred medical care and job losses.
On Monday, the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that the country’s experts had underestimated the probability of a second wave. It was the first time an official criticized, even skewed, The Swedish Public Health Agency in Sweden, the expert group tasked with formulating coronavirus policy, and its state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell.
In October, Tegnell said that he hoped that the spread of immunity in the population would help Sweden cope with the case with a low level of cases.
“I think most people in the profession did not see a second wave coming,” Lofven said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
Mr Tegnell’s agency is no longer shouting all the shots at virus policy and he must increasingly share the stage with Swedish politicians who have taken a more active role.
During the first wave, deaths were high, especially among the elderly. A special commission was closed on Tuesday in a first report that the government failed to protect the elderly and was unprepared for the pandemic. That said, the death toll among those over 80 has been high across Europe.
The number of infections and deaths has increased steadily since October. On Tuesday, Sweden had reached a total of 320,098 cases since the pandemic began, while neighboring Finland, with about half of Sweden’s population, has 31,110 cases, less than 10 percent of Sweden’s.
Sweden’s total deaths reached 7,667 on Tuesday. The country now has 74 deaths per 100,000 people, fewer than the United Kingdom, with 97, but far more than neighboring Norway, with seven.
“I’m afraid it’s going to get even worse,” said Karin Hildebrand, a cardiologist in the intensive care unit. Sodersjukhuset hospital in Stockholm. “We are all afraid of the coming weeks. We do not have enough staff to handle this. ”
Nurses have left their jobs in large numbers since the pandemic began.
– About 3,000 nurses have stopped working during the first ten months of the year, says Sineva Ribeiro, chairman of Sweden’s health and medical staff. “Those who remained have worked very, very hard.”
And now the government is being criticized for not doing enough.
“I hoped that this serious situation would change things, but yesterday they opened the ski lifts in Sweden,” said Fredrik Elgh, professor of clinical virology at Umeå University and a well-known critic here of the official response to the coronavirus. “Given such measures, I do not think the government is taking the definite measures I had hoped for.”
Mr Lofven’s government, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, issued new recommendations in late November banning gatherings of more than eight people.
While schools for children under 16 have been open throughout the pandemic, some are now closed after the outbreak. A ban on serving alcohol after 22.00 has been implemented. On Monday, a government agency issued mass messages warning people to limit Christmas gatherings to a maximum of eight people.
But officials ask, do not order.
According to Swedish law, the government may not force people to stay at home or fine those who violate the recommendations.
The Netherlands, with a lower infection rate than Sweden, went into full lockdown on Tuesday. Germany will close most of the country on Wednesday.
Restaurants, cafes and bars in Sweden continue to be open.
Face masks are not recommended in Sweden because the Swedish Public Health Agency says that there is not enough scientific evidence that they work.
So on Monday afternoon, “Chic Konditori”, which sells coffee and sweets in Stockholm, was full of customers. Tea Kagstrom, an 18-year-old college student with feathered blonde hair, sat with two friends and enjoyed a cup of coffee. When asked why she did not have a face mask, she answered because it is not mandatory.
“The public health authority has not said that we should wear masks in public places,” she said.
The government is drafting an emergency law that would give it the power to order closures and close companies when the virus spreads.
Critics are still calling for tougher action.
“We need a few weeks lockdown to get the numbers down,” says Tove Fall, professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University near Stockholm. “Other countries are taking much higher precautions at lower transmission levels.”
Some are upset that face masks are not used in Sweden.
“We are the only democracy in the world that does not recommend the use of face masks. There are more than 170 countries in the world that recommend using masks. But here they say that there is not enough science behind it. This is nonsense, says Dr. Elgh, professor of virology.
But others still claim that the virus threat is exaggerated.
“Every death is sad, but it must be put in proportion. About 85 percent of those who died in Sweden also had another disease, and many of those who died this spring would probably have died later this year, says Johnny Ludvigsson, pediatrician at Linköping University, in a interview with the newspaper Aftonbladet.
“I think we are too dramatic in terms of the number of deaths during the corona pandemic,” he said. “Compare that to what will happen when we have increased mortality among younger people due to increased heart attacks, late diagnosis of cancer or increased depression that can end in suicide.”