Swedish coronavirus deaths top 1,000, fuelling criticism over strategy

The development adds to controversy surrounding Sweden's decision to ignore the lockdowns being imposed elsewhere.
The development adds to controversy surrounding Sweden's decision to ignore the lockdowns being imposed elsewhere.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (BLOOMBERG) - Sweden just passed a grim milestone, as Scandinavia's biggest economy reported more than 1,000 deaths from Covid-19.

The development adds to controversy surrounding Sweden's decision to ignore the lockdowns being imposed elsewhere, and instead leave schools, bars, cafes and restaurants open to the public. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has said that stricter measures may be needed going forward.

In all, 1,033 Swedes have died from Covid-19, official figures showed on Tuesday (April 14). Though still well below fatality rates in Italy and the UK, it's far worse than in any of the Nordic countries with which Sweden usually compares itself. The Swedish mortality rate is almost 10 times higher than in Finland, more than four times higher than in Norway, and twice Denmark's.

The latest development has prompted 22 academics to entreat the government to alter its course. "The approach must be changed radically and swiftly," they wrote in an opinion piece published in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

Mr Lofven's hands-off model has drawn criticism from across the globe, including from US President Donald Trump. But in Sweden, government agencies and policymakers say their approach is built on the idea that voluntary social distancing measures are most effective, rather than a total lockdown. They argue that the Swedish model is more sustainable when it comes to fighting a lasting pandemic.

Like elsewhere, most of Sweden's Covid-19 deaths have hit the elderly - a demographic Mr Lofven has admitted it should have done more to protect.

"We have had an unfortunate development, especially compared to our neighbouring countries, with an introduction of the virus at many elderly care homes," top Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at a press conference on Tuesday.  "We have started working hard on this, in coordination with other government agencies."

The academics, writing in Dagens Nyheter, urged the government to adopt a number of specific measures to save lives.

"Close schools and restaurants in the same way that Finland has. All people working with elderly must wear adequate protective equipment. Start mass testing of all personnel that treat patients and test for antibodies so that those who have immunity can go back to work."