Covid crisis: Time to follow the Swede Smell of Success?

16 September 2020, 21:56 | Updated: 17 September 2020, 11:17

File photo: People walking in a street in Stockholm
File photo: People walking in a street in Stockholm. Picture: Getty

While Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the prospect of a second national lockdown, Sweden – which did not lockdown at all – has seen its coronavirus rates fall.

The Scandinavian country shied away from introducing a lockdown, opting instead for voluntary measures, including social distancing.

People were asked to work from home where possible and to avoid public transport, there was a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and a shift to table service only in bars and restaurants.

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But despite enforcing a national lockdown and mandating the wearing of masks on public transport and shops, Boris Johnson refused to rule out a second lockdown happening in the UK.

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday that the Government will do "everything in its power" to prevent a second national lockdown, which would have "disastrous" financial consequences.

PM: Government will do 'everything in its power' to prevent second national lockdown

He was asked by Conservative MP and chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Julian Knight, whether the country could afford another national lockdown.

Mr Johnson replied: "I don't want a second national lockdown - I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.

"And can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means that we have set out.

"So when I see people arguing against the rule of six or saying that the Government is coming in too hard on individual liberties and so on - I totally understand that and I sympathise with that, but we must, must defeat this disease."

Sweden has seen case numbers below most countries in Europe despite not advising the wearing of masks or shutting down bars and restaurants.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Sweden’s two-week total of new cases was 22.2 per 100,000 inhabitants on Tuesday.

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This compares to 279 in Spain, 158.5 in France, 118 in the Czech Republic, 77 in Belgium and 59 in the UK.

1.2 per cent of its 120,000 tests last week came back positive, compared with Rhondda Cynon Taf, which is heading back into local lockdown after their rate hit 4.3 per cent – the highest in Wales.

But at 574, Sweden’s coronavirus toll per million inhabitants is more than five times higher than Denmark’s and ten times that of Norway and Finland.

Anders Tegnell, who led Sweden’s strategy, told Unherd that despite the high death toll, they are now seeing “rapidly falling cases.”

He said: “I think to a great extent it’s been a success.

“We are now seeing rapidly falling cases, we have continuously had healthcare that has been working, there have been free beds at any given time, never any crowding in the hospitals, we have been able to keep schools open which we think is extremely important, and society fairly open — while still having social distancing in place in a way that means that the spread of the disease has been limited.

“The failure has of course been the death toll … that has been very much related to the long-term care facilities in Sweden.

“Now that has improved, we see a lot less cases in those facilities.”