Sweden’s response to the spread of coronavirus was too slow and preparations to handle a pandemic were insufficient, a commission investigating the country’s response to COVID-19 said on Friday.
Sweden’s early strategy, shunning lockdowns and measures such as face masks and only gradually tightening curbs, made the country an outlier in the first year of the pandemic when many countries across Europe chose to implement tougher restrictions.
The commission said it would address Sweden’s no-lockdown strategy in its final report, but that its preliminary findings showed that measures were introduced late both in relation to the country’s Nordic neighbours and the spread of the virus in Sweden during the spring of 2020.
“Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been marked by a slowness of response,” the commission said.
“The initial disease prevention and control measures were insufficient to stop or even substantially limit the spread of the virus in the country.”
The commission, appointed by the government amid pressure from parliament, also noted that it had taken “far too long” to build sufficient testing capacity with initially only targeted groups, such as healthcare staff, being tested.
Authorities relied heavily on voluntary recommendations for people to socially distance and wash their hands, and public places such as schools, restaurants and businesses remained largely open, with the government leaving much of the responsibility for fighting the virus with the health agency and its chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell.
Sweden has recorded more than 15,000 deaths from coronavirus, many times the per capita level of its Nordic neighbours that implemented tougher restrictions, but still lower than many countries that locked down tightly, such as Britain.
Its pandemic strategy has been controversial at home and abroad. Critics have called it reckless and cruel but the approach has also earned praise for being more sustainable and business-friendly and as a model for living with the virus as it becomes endemic.
Restrictions were gradually tightened in later waves of the pandemic before Sweden, along with other Western countries, began abandoning curbs following the rollout of vaccines. Nearly all restrictions have now been lifted.
The commission investigating the coronavirus response has no legal power beyond making public its findings with the aim of improving Sweden’s ability to handle pandemics and similar situations.
Photo – General view of a billboard informing about the importance to keep social distance during the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on a facade in Stockholm, Sweden. EPA-EFE/FREDRIK SANDBERG