Health officials in Sweden, who chose not to respond to the first wave of Covid-19 with a nationwide lockdown, misjudged the power of the virus’s resurgence, the country’s prime minister said, as the independent commission criticized the country’s strategy.
“I think most people in the profession haven’t seen such a wave in front of them; they talked about different clusters, ”Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet on Tuesday.
Sweden stood out among European and other countries for the way it handled the pandemic, not mandating lockdowns like other nations, but relying on the citizens’ sense of civic duty.
But the country of just over 10 million people has recorded 341,029 confirmed infections and 7,667 deaths linked to the virus, a much higher death toll than its neighbors Norway, Finland and Denmark.
Over the summer, Sweden’s left-wing minority government said a commission would be appointed once the crisis was over, but was pressured to act sooner.
The commission said in its report that the country’s strategy to protect the elderly had partially failed, and its leader stressed that the current government and previous governments would bear “ultimate responsibility” for the situation.
Commission President Mats Melin told a press conference that elderly care in Sweden has major structural shortcomings and the country has been shown to be ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic . The committee also considered that several measures taken in the spring were late and insufficient.
Melin said that the responsibility for the structural deficiencies of the Swedish health system could lie with several authorities and organizations.
“But we still want to say that the government rules the country and therefore the ultimate responsibility lies with the government and previous governments,” Melin said.
Sweden’s statistical agency said Monday it recorded a total of 8,088 deaths from all causes in November – the highest overall mortality since the first year of the Spanish flu that plagued the world from 1918 to 1920. In November 1918, 16,600 people died in Scandinavian country, said Tomas Johansson of Statistics Sweden.
Löfven’s government and chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell have championed the country’s controversial coronavirus strategy, despite Sweden having one of the highest per capita Covid-19 death rates in the world.
Authorities have advised people to practice social distancing, although schools, bars and restaurants have remained open all the time, and urged people to focus on good hygiene and social distancing to stem the outbreak. .
Still, authorities, including Tegnell, have come under fire – and some have apologized – for failing to protect the elderly and residents of nursing homes.
Tuesday’s commission report said Sweden’s northern neighbors were paying more attention to the care of the elderly during the pandemic.
“In the other Nordic countries … care for the elderly seems to have been more at the center of the authorities’ first pandemic measures,” the report said.
In the fall, Sweden saw a rapid increase in new cases of the coronavirus which put a strain on its healthcare system. Infections quickly spread among medical staff, prompting the government to support more restrictions, including a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. in bars and restaurants.
Sweden has also imposed its toughest virus restrictions to date by banning public gatherings of more than eight people.