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
Part 5 - Popular Confidence?
So far, the strategy is widely appreciated by the public — the government led by the Social Democrats and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven boasts the highest approval ratings in years, rising from 35 to 65 percent during the crisis. And not only the government saw such a rise in confidence, but also public institutions such as the health care sector.
It may seem odd that Swedes are celebrating a strategy that has cost more lives than the ones of its neighboring countries — and one may even think that such a hands-off approach is simply what Scandinavians prefer. But a comparison with other Scandinavian countries shows that this is not the case.
The harsher measures taken by the other Nordic governments (all but Norway’s headed by Social Democrats) have resulted in soaring support for the governing parties there — more so than in Sweden. In Denmark, Norway, and Finland, support has been hovering between 65 and 88 percent since April, the highest of all governments in Europe, while Sweden’s never surpassed 65 percent.
Moreover, the public in other Nordic countries has been highly exposed to reports on the Swedish strategy, sometimes presented as a competition between the countries. Regular comparisons show death rates, infection numbers, and admissions to emergency wards in the different Scandinavian countries — and this information is also displayed side by side during live TV debates on the pros and cons of the diverging approaches.
Hence, on September 18, the Danish public broadcaster’s popular debate show Deadline aired with the title “Does Sweden Have the Best Corona Strategy?” During the show, the host felt the need to intervene by saying that “it’s not a competition,” illustrating how much reporting seems to have been reduced to something resembling a football match. But it could be speculated that such reporting plays some small part in explaining why Sweden’s neighbors hold such high support for the measures of their own governments — for now, they are winning the competition.