Opinion: Sweden continues to stand out about the COVID-19 strategy | Europe | News and current affairs from across the continent DW
From the outside, all Scandinavians seem to be similar: very progressive, accustomed to prosperity and a high standard of living, and they pay extremely high taxes on beer. But all this is, of course, nonsense. In reality, there are differences between individual Scandinavian nations that go as deep as a Norwegian fjord.
It starts with the fact that Scandinavians do not see face to face with each other. If you talk to a Dane, you will hear, without being asked, that the Swedes are arrogant. The Swedes, in turn, believe that the Danes are eccentrics. Both are united by a common envy of the newly rich Norwegians due to their enormous oil and gas discoveries.
Model of the responsible citizen
What makes things even more complicated is that there is a grain of truth in the stereotypes and prejudices. For example, the Swedes developed their own, distinctive model for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was not politicians who decided what to do with the insidious disease. They left it to the researchers.
In turn, they mostly gave advice via the media on how citizens should behave: wash their hands, keep their distance and stay at home. But it was up to the Swedes to follow the recommendations that were not mandatory.
There were no lockdowns or steep fines for violations, as in other countries, because it just did not suit the Swedish model to leave it to the citizens to take responsibility for themselves. But the strategy had fatal consequences, as it turned out later.
DW’s Chief Correspondent, Miodrag Soric
First, Sweden’s researchers assured the population that it was unlikely that the pandemic would spread in sparsely populated areas. Restaurants, schools and shops remained open. But the virus did not stop at Sweden’s borders. It spread, as it had all over the world, especially in nursing homes where nursing homes were vulnerable. Infection and mortality were many times higher than in the Nordic neighboring countries.
But what was surprising was that this failure did not undermine the authority of Sweden’s experts. Instead, they questioned and continue to doubt the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) that a mask that covers the nose and mouth protects against the coronavirus.
No more COVID-19 restrictions
Now the Swedes, just like the Danes and Norwegians, lift almost all corona restrictions. The experts justify it by pointing to the high vaccination rate, especially among the elderly population. In recent months, anyone who wanted to be vaccinated could do so easily. Those who still did not get the shot were considered responsible for their own fate.
All Scandinavian countries have a highly developed, digitalized healthcare system. In addition, there are enough free beds in the intensive care units.
Despite the relatively high number of deaths, most Swedes are quite satisfied with their national strategy against COVID-19 and continue to trust the state. They point out that the pandemic has caused much less damage to Sweden’s economy than elsewhere and that schools and kindergartens remained open at all times.
Even if a teacher has been affected by the virus in recent months, the strategy was that as long as the symptoms were mild, the person could continue to teach.
This is unthinkable in other EU countries, where teachers receiving COVID-19 have to stay at home because otherwise they would spread the virus further.
On the other hand, the generous Swedish welfare state only works if kindergarten and school are open. The high tax rate means that parents have no choice but to work to support their families. Housing in the capital, Stockholm, is scarce and expensive. It is important that children are cared for during the day so that both parents can work.
A less critical pressure
Unlike German, French or British journalists, who sharply criticize their governments when they make mistakes, the Swedish press is more cautious. Instead, it prefers constructive journalism that does not ask tough questions to the comfortable welfare state. This makes it more difficult for Swedes to come to terms with their own mistakes in the fight against the pandemic.
At the end of the day, one thing is definitely true: Swedes are really different.
This article has been translated from German.