Living in Sweden as I do currently, I feel I should have some view of Sweden’s very different approach to Coronavirus from nearly any other country in the world. So here goes.
In fact life here seems to be going on very much as normal, although being out on an island as we are I can’t be sure what it’s like in the city. The local krog (pub/restaurant) is doing a roaring trade, with customers – mainly arriving in boats – eating and drinking happily together; our lanthandel (general store) is trying to enforce social distancing, but without much visible success; and I’ve seen literally no-one wearing a mask. (So much for all those masks I brought with me from England.) Schools, pubs and cafes are apparently still open in Stockholm, albeit with restrictions. There’s no general ‘lockdown’ here, which means that the economy is functioning far better than elsewhere, except where it depends on other countries supplying materials or visitors. We’re receiving our own visitors from Stockholm on our island, without any fear of infection – we think – either way.
But then that’s not typical of the whole of Sweden, whose death-rate from Coronavirus is many times higher than its Nordic neighbours’, for example, and whose government has deliberately set its face against the sorts of restrictions that almost every other country in the world has felt are necessary in order to save lives. Sweden has always been known for its distinctive ‘model’ of society; but this model doesn’t seem quite right for a modern ‘welfare’ state. It’s also highly controversial in Sweden itself, as well as – of course – abroad. A few weeks ago Sweden was being roundly mocked for it almost everywhere, except perhaps in Trump’s ‘freedom’-loving USA.
But Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, who is responsible for the policy, still insists that in the long run he will be proved right, with fewer fatalities in Sweden from a second ‘spike’ of Covid-19 than other countries will suffer – fewer total deaths, therefore – and less harm having been done to the Swedish economy along the way. Apparently it all has to do with ‘herd’ (or what they call in Sweden ‘flock’) immunity. I understand that this was one of Dominic Cummings’s pet ideas, too.
An immense amount has been written about this contrast in approaches to the disease. One of the latest and best analyses is to be found in August 9th’s Sunday Telegraph, by Ross Clark (unfortunately behind a paywall). What I can gather from that is that no-one will know for certain whether Sweden or the rest of the world is right until it’s all over – if it ever is. Obviously I can have no informed view of my own. As a demi-Swede I should like my adopted country to be vindicated; but would be mortified if that meant vindicating the hated Cummings – and even Trump – too.