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Why Sweden's Approach to COVID-19 Failed Its Citizens

Daniel Hong
Grade 10
In a time when governments across the world were imposing lockdowns on its citizens, Sweden chose to do the opposite. Until late May, the Scandinavian country of 10 million people had no lockdown, no physical distancing, and minimal government intervention. The chief epidemiologist of Sweden, Anders Tegnell, was tasked by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, a socialist, to create a “common sense” plan to combat the novel coronavirus. The government of Sweden hoped that Tegnell’s unique approach would weather the storm that wreaked havoc in Italy only weeks earlier.

The theory behind Anders Tegnell’s COVID-19 plan was to let the virus run its course in the country as citizens gained herd immunity. Sweden kept restaurants, malls, gyms, and primary schools open for its citizens to be exposed to the virus. Tegnell was critical of neighbouring Norway and Finland imposing lockdowns and suggested that it would not be sustainable if the pandemic had no end in sight. The international community shot back at Tegnell, suggesting that no government intervention would be catastrophic for its people. Many warned that it would not be long before infection rates and deaths skyrocketed. Dr. Jeff Kwong from the University of Toronto stated in an interview with Global News, “it is unclear whether infected persons can become reinfected with the virus.” COVID-19 is a “new” virus and there is much to be learned about it. Sweden overlooked the facts about COVID-19 and gave it a similar treatment to known viruses, like chickenpox.

Minimal case numbers were announced when the virus first appeared in Sweden and all were mild. For a nation that has such strong social services, Sweden was proud that their healthcare system was able to hold up to the demands of COVID-19 patients. That pride quickly eroded as Sweden’s case count started multiplying by the day. Within 14 days of announcing the first case, Sweden announced more than 100 cases/day. The epidemiological curve was rising out of control. The Swedes who were once praised for their unique ideas now found themselves in a hole. This was at a time when nations that did impose lockdowns, like Italy and China, reopened to its citizens. By June 23, Sweden had a total of 60 837 cases and 5161 deaths. Because of the botched plan, Anders Tegnell faced severe backlash and calls to resign over his handling of the pandemic. When asked whether too many people had died on a radio show, Tegnell said, “Yes, absolutely … [Sweden] would have to consider in the future whether there was a way of preventing” high death rates.

As the case count in Sweden continues to rise amidst a blame game happening in its bureaucracy, health officials must find an immediate solution to flatten the curve. Will the government go against its chief epidemiologist and impose a nationwide lockdown? Or will they continue with Tegnell’s approach of minimal intervention? Only time will tell what the fate of the Swedish people will be.