Sweden’s response to the spread of coronavirus was too slow and preparations to deal with a pandemic were insufficient, said a commission investigating the country’s response to covid-19 on Friday.
Sweden’s early strategy, to avoid closures and measures such as face masks and only gradually sharpen curbs, made the country an extremist during the first year of the pandemic when many countries across Europe chose to impose stricter restrictions.
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The Commission said that it would address Sweden’s no-lockdown strategy in its final report, but that its preliminary results showed that measures were introduced late both in relation to the country’s Nordic neighbors and the spread of the virus in Sweden in the spring of 2020.
“Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been characterized by a slow reaction,” says the Commission.
“The initial disease prevention and control measures were insufficient to stop or even significantly limit the spread of the virus in the country.”
The Commission, set up by the government under pressure from Parliament, also noted that it had taken “far too long” to build up sufficient testing capacity with initially only targeted groups, such as healthcare professionals, being tested.
Authorities relied heavily on voluntary recommendations for people to socially distance and wash their hands, and public places such as schools, restaurants and businesses remained largely open, with the government leaving much of the responsibility to fight the virus to the health authority and its chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell.
Sweden has registered more than 15,000 deaths from coronavirus, many times the per capita level for its Nordic neighbors, which imposed stricter restrictions, but still lower than many countries that locked up hard, such as the United Kingdom.
Its pandemic strategy has been controversial at home and abroad. Critics have called it ruthless and cruel, but the approach has also been praised for being more sustainable and business-friendly and as a model for living with the virus when it becomes endemic.
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The restrictions were gradually tightened in later waves by the pandemic before Sweden, together with other western countries, began to abandon curbs after the expansion of vaccines. Almost all restrictions have now been lifted.
The investigation that investigates the coronavirus control has no legal power other than to publish its results in order to improve Sweden’s ability to handle pandemics and similar situations.