The world depicts the country as “playing Russian roulette” by not enacting a coronavirus lockdownby Richard Orange / May 1, 2020 / Leave a comment
If I’ve learnt one thing in a decade living in Sweden, it is that it is boring. Its respectful, consensus-driven politics has little of Westminster’s drama, and the highly-independent government bodies responsible for the day-to-day running of things—known collectively as myndigheterna (the agencies)—value rule and procedure above radical ideas.
So Swedes bristle as the world depicts the country as “playing Russian roulette” by not enacting a draconian coronavirus lockdown and by pursuing a herd immunity strategy that’s supposedly only considered elsewhere by wild-eyed mavericks. That’s just not how Sweden thinks of itself.
As Anders Tegnell, the country’s unflappable state epidemiologist has repeatedly argued, it is the rest of the world that is running the experiment. No previous pandemic has seen countries shut down to the extent seen in 2020.
From Sweden’s own perspective, it is taking a restrained, middle-of-the-road approach while others panic and put in place knee-jerk border controls and school closures that are neither backed by the evidence nor sustainable. Sweden denies having a herd immunity strategy, with Tegnell arguing that its aim, like that of everyone else, is simply to suppress the pandemic to a level the health system can cope with.
So where I live in Malmö, life continues—almost—unchanged. Many now work from home. Most who fall ill, like my family did, have quarantined themselves. Most elderly people have self-isolated. But parks are full of groups enjoying the spring, the local football pitch echoes with excited shouts. “It feels like it’s all back to normal now,” my son’s teacher beamed in the crowded schoolyard last week. “We all have coronavirus,” joked the waitress in my local café, which is as busy as ever, when I asked if there are any hygiene measures. “Would you like some extra coronavirus with that?”
The immediate price of Sweden’s less-restrictive policy, however, has become harder to ignore. The death rate has soared far above those of its more heavily locked down Nordic neighbours, standing—as I write—at roughly triple that of Denmark and six times that of Norway and Finland. At one point, it looked like the curve was stabilising, but as the weeks ground on, Tegnell conceded it had now…