Swedish Leader: Health officials misjudged the 2nd COVID-19 wave

Health officials in Sweden, who chose not to respond to the first wave of COVID-19 with a national blockade, have misjudged the strength of the virus’s ongoing resurgence, the country’s prime minister said Tuesday, and an independent commission had criticism of the national strategy.

“I don’t think most people in the business envisioned such a wave. They were talking about different clusters, ”Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told Aftenposten newspaper.

The Scandinavian nation has received international attention for its unusual, more relaxed approach to the pandemic, relying on residents to maintain hygienic and social protocols. Hundreds of millions of people around the world trapped in their homes watched with jealousy and disbelief as Swedes kept coming to workplaces, restaurants and bars without wearing masks or standing a meter apart.

After the Prime Minister’s comments were published Tuesday, a committee that has examined Sweden’s handling of the pandemic released its preliminary conclusions – which were especially critical of facilities for the elderly.

The country of just over 10 million inhabitants has seen 341,029 confirmed infections and 7,667 virus-related deaths, a death toll far higher than neighboring Norway, Finland or Denmark.

Over the summer, Sweden’s left-wing minority government said a commission would be appointed once the crisis was over, but it came under pressure to act earlier.

The commission said in its report that current and previous governments would bear “ultimate responsibility” for the failures of the country’s elderly.

At a press conference, Commission President Mats Melin stressed that the care of the elderly in Sweden has major structural deficiencies and that the country has proved unprepared 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 deficiencies in the Swedish health care system could be due to different authorities and organizations.

“But we still want to say that the government runs the country and therefore the ultimate responsibility lies with the government and previous governments,” Melin said.

The Swedish Bureau of Statistics said on Monday that in November it had recorded a total of 8,088 deaths from all causes – the highest death rate since the first year of the Spanish flu that raged across the world from 1918 to 1920. In November 1918, 16,600 people died in the Scandinavian country, said Tomas Johansson of Statistics Sweden.

The Lofven government and chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell have defended the country’s controversial coronavirus strategy, despite Sweden having one of the highest COVID-19 death rates per capita in the world.

Sweden stood out between European and other countries for the way it handled the pandemic, for a long time not mandating a lockdown like other countries had, but instead appealing to the sense of duty of the citizens.

Authorities have advised people to distance themselves socially and urged people to focus on good hygiene and social distance to stop the outbreak, but schools, bars and restaurants have been kept open all the time.

Still, authorities, including Tegnell, have been criticized – and some have apologized – for failing to protect the elderly and residents of nursing homes.

According to Tuesday’s commission report, Sweden’s Norwegian neighbors paid more attention to caring for the elderly during the pandemic.

“In the other Nordic countries… care for the elderly seems to be more of a focus in the early pandemic measures taken by the authorities,” the report said.

In the fall, Sweden saw a rapid increase in the number of new cases of coronavirus straining its healthcare system. Infections have spread rapidly among medical personnel, forcing the government to introduce more restrictions, including a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol after 10pm in bars and restaurants.

Sweden has also imposed the strictest coronavirus restrictions to date by banning public gatherings of more than eight people.