Sweden’s longtime refusal to impose a general lockdown has seen it portrayed as an alternative “model” for coping with the pandemic. Yet death rates in its care homes have been appalling — and as a scandal that broke last month highlighted, much of the blame lies with the breakup and privatization of the country’s once-mighty public services.
by Anton Ösgård
We are all sharing the experience of the pandemic. Or are we? In Sweden, you will see it referred to as “the current predicament” (rådande omständigheter) when prompted to keep a distance in a café, a train station, or a crowded store. This message pretty much sums up how the pandemic is experienced in Sweden by those not personally hit by it — an impersonal suggestion to remember that the rest of the world has stopped.
Readers in places where strict lockdowns have been keeping them indoors for weeks, if not months, might relate better to the situation of elderly Swedes and their relatives, especially in Stockholm. This group seemingly took the burden, sacrificing their lives and freedom for keeping the country open — indeed, so many elderly people have died that Sweden’s death rate per capita was at one point the highest in Europe.
But as the spread of the virus is on the rise again, some speculate it will be less pronounced in Sweden, compared to countries that instituted lockdowns. So the argument goes, many of the most vulnerable have died already, and a larger part of the population could have developed immunity. Yet today, both the spread of the virus and the number of deaths are on the rise in Sweden — not least among the elderly.