To Swedes, It’s the Rest of the World Engaging in a Reckless Experiment
Sweden has its own experts it trusts. No Imperial College sensationalism welcome here
Now and again, my wife asks if it’s worth getting Swedish passports for our children. She has never got around to seeking British citizenship and I try to tell her that she’d better get her skates on before Home Secretary Priti Patel comes around asking for her papers. But the kids: how would a Swedish passport possibly benefit them? We run through what might go wrong for a country and, in every eventuality, Britain always seems the better bet. But now Swedes have a fresh argument: that their country might be the only one in Europe to come out of the coronavirus crisis with the economy semi-intact.
There is, still, no lockdown there. Shopping centres remain open, as are most schools and firms. Many work from home, many don’t – all are at liberty to choose. When I called a friend in Stockholm to ask about the Swedish experiment, he was on his way to a book launch. He’s still taking his sons to football matches and is proud that Sweden is keeping calm and carrying on.
To him there is no Swedish experiment: it’s the rest of Europe that is experimenting – by locking down economies in response to a virus which may prove to be no more deadly than flu.
It’s not that Sweden is in denial. It has had 5466 confirmed cases, 282 deaths. Coronavirus has been found in a third of Stockholm’s (many) elderly care homes. But the debate there is still where the British debate was three weeks ago when the Prime Minister was resisting lockdown. This changed for Britain when Imperial College London published its study suggesting that avoiding lockdown could mean 250,000 deaths. This logic applies to Sweden – but the country of the Nobel Prize and the Karolinska Institute believes its own experts. They disagree with Imperial. They still see Covid-19 as a manageable risk.
The face of Sweden’s response has been Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist, who has held daily press conferences. Politicians have taken a back seat. His team have published their own assessment of the virus and its likely trajectory, showing it peaking with about 250 needing intensive care in Stockholm. The nation’s hospitals, he says, can cope. A 600-bed temporary ward is opening tomorrow, south of the city – and when it does, a quarter of all intensive care beds will be used. So for now, no reason to impose any more restrictions.