By Johan Ahlander and Niklas Pollard
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden should have closed meeting places and taken other tougher measures early in the covid-19 pandemic, although its non-lockdown strategy was largely favorable, a commission said on Friday.
Sweden polarized public opinion at home and abroad when it chose not to follow most of the rest of the world in ordering closures and adopted a largely voluntary strategy to promote social distancing and good hygiene.
The Commission – appointed by the government under pressure from the Riksdag – said that Sweden’s broad policy was “fundamentally correct”.
“This meant that citizens retained more of their personal freedom than in many other countries,” the report said.
But the panel of eight experts, including professors of economics and political science, said the government should have taken clearer leadership and acted earlier.
The criticism may be a debt to the ruling Social Democrats with elections in September.
“In February-March 2020, Sweden should have chosen more rigorous and urgent disease prevention and control measures,” the commission said in the report.
It criticized the decision not to close places like restaurants and shopping malls even briefly and to reject face masks early in the pandemic.
It also said that the government had delegated too much responsibility to authorities, primarily the Health Authority, and that it was not always clear who made the decision.
“In a crisis, there must be no uncertainty about who is in control,” it said.
Sweden only gradually tightened the curbs and never closed schools for younger children. The authorities eventually recommended masks, but only for situations such as rush hour commuting.
More than 17,000 people have died of or with covid-19 in Sweden, much more per capita than among Nordic neighboring countries but fewer than in most European countries that have chosen shutdowns.
Statistics Sweden’s figures showed that the country had 7.7% more deaths in 2020 than the average for the previous four years, among the lowest mortality rates in Europe.
Previous Commission reports have highlighted serious shortcomings in pandemic care for the elderly, such as understaffing and poor hygiene.
Sweden has not seen the large-scale protests against covid edges that have shaken many other countries.
(Report by Johan Ahlander and Niklas Pollard; Edited by Andrew Heavens)