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How privatization hobbled Sweden’s response to coronavirus

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 6 - Back to Socialized Health Care!
 
The strategy of isolating risk groups and letting everyone else live on as usual might have worked in the Sweden of the past — the social-democratic Sweden that was well prepared for crisis and could act in coordination. But the Sweden of new public management, privatizations, and an increasingly precarious labor market has fared far worse than its neighbors. One estimate has it that if Sweden had imposed a lockdown on par with its neighbors, the number of infections could have been halved, and deaths could have been a third lower.

This does not seem to have dented the public’s captivation by the architect of this strategy, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, even amid the current surge in new cases. Instead, the public now grants him and the Public Health Agency he heads their highest approval ratings since the start of the pandemic, at 72 percent. But if Swedes thus express support for policies that have resulted in more deaths than necessary, the governments of neighboring countries enjoy even higher favorability — suggesting that this public confidence does not actually owe to the particular strategy Sweden has chosen.

Today, Sweden is run by a minority coalition government consisting of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. Yet this coalition also relies on support from two smaller liberal parties through an agreement that specifically guarantees the Left Party will be excluded from any influence over government policies. This coalition has attracted scorn from both the Left and Right, but its right-wing aspect was clear as it released a seventy-three-point compromise deal proposing a list of neoliberal reforms going further even than the platforms of previous right-wing governments.

This shows just how far Sweden’s Social Democrats were willing to accept neoliberal policies in order to keep governing. Indeed, there is no end in sight for the continuation and deepening of the deregulations, privatizations, and austerity that have become the defining features of Swedish politics over the last decades, all of them factors that have contributed to the failure of the country’s COVID-19 strategy. To be better prepared for the next pandemic, Sweden needs to stop the onslaught of neoliberal politics — and resocialize health care.

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