A parliamentary committee is carrying out a major investigation into the Swedish corona approach. This has begun the look back in Sweden. The situation in disadvantaged districts in particular has been underestimated, as it appears.
“ Sweden is in a critical situation. We are dealing with a very rapid spread of the virus.” Anders Tegnell, the Swedish state epidemiologist who was the epitome of peace and optimism last year, now sounds gloomy. “Our situation is similar to the Netherlands at the moment, but worse.”
Tegnell is the head of the Swedish RIVM and is the architect of the controversial Swedish corona approach. He doesnt believe in strict lockdowns. Cafes, sports clubs and schools remained open and there was never a curfew. Tegnell also denied that mouthcaps have an effect.
For many Swedes, free life went on and the state epidemiologist grew into a cult hero: Tegnell was even seen on tattoos, t-shirts and is acclaimed in rap. Many Swedes are proud of their relaxed society, based on mutual trust and fewer rules.
But freedom for one, meant insecurity for others. “This free approach was beneficial for the middle class, for people with permanent jobs who are allowed to work at home,” says Stefan Hanson, epidemiologist and general practitioner. He set up a clinic in Spånga, one of Stockholms disadvantaged districts. He opposed the liberal coronation policy and published a critical manifesto with twenty scientists.
Europe correspondent Saskia Dekkers visits the disadvantaged district of Spånga. “They thought this only happens in other countries, in poorer countries.” (Turn on your sound!)
In Sweden, one fifth of the population is born abroad. It is precisely the migrant communities that have been hit unprecedented by the coronacrisis. Hanson cant hide his indignation. “My community residents have to travel for their jobs. They have no choice at home, they are often hired by the hour.”
He describes how people with poorly paid jobs suffer from indifferent Swedes who do not keep distance without a mouthcap. Not in the subway, but also during their work as a taxi and bus driver or cleaner. The consequences are great. “We heard the ambulances every day. Many more people died here.”
Together with the University of Uppsala, Hanson investigated who was infected with corona. “We have tested in several districts of Stockholm. In the center it was a few percent, and here we saw almost 30 percent. A big difference.” Over 14,000 patients have died in Sweden with ten million inhabitants. The country has been hit more heavily than the Scandinavian neighbours. In the Netherlands, too, the number of deaths seems to be lower.
Same patterns everywhere
State epidemiologist Tegnell admits that the situation in the hospitals is worrying. “The pressure on Swedish health care is high, almost as high as before Christmas, we are definitely in a difficult situation.” The IC departments are overcrowded and tens of thousands of operations have been postponed.
Last year he told us in Nieuwsuur that Swedish elderly people were unnecessarily hard hit. He now confirms that people with a migration background have become more often infected by the virus. But he emphasises that his liberal policy was not specifically aimed at the middle class. “You see the same patterns everywhere, even in the Netherlands. These groups are more affected, they are always vulnerable. This is independent of the policy being pursued.”
Only after a new, large wave of contamination in mid-November the Swedish bars and restaurants closed earlier and there was a ban on the sale and serving of alcohol. The number of people allowed to gather is limited to eight people.
The Swedes have a long-cherished tradition in which the government does not interfere with the Swedish RIVM. Scientists from the Public Health Council had their hands free in addressing the crisis. Research and radio journalist Daniël Öhman, together with a team, analysed the governments press conferences and set them against the facts. They found out that the state epidemiologist sometimes represented the situation more beautifully. That became big news.
Things nicer proposed
“ At the press conferences Anders Tegnell told us that compliance with the Swedish coronavirus measures was “very high”. It was about keeping distance in public transport and avoiding large gatherings.” But according to collected data from the research team, compliance proved to be much less high and there was evidence of a serious second wave. “Anders Tegnell told us that he does not want to cause unnecessary unrest,” says Öhman.
When we ask Tegnell about the investigation, he denies that hes presented things more beautifully. “We have acted in good conscience with the knowledge of the past.” But Öhman thinksthat the state epidemiologist has thought too much about the political effects of his opinions. “Then it goes wrong. His role is to make scientific decisions. He has to tell people the truth, so they can make their own judgments.”
The vaccination campaign in Sweden is now going well. Especially in large cities, vaccination is being carried out efficiently, although the intention to vaccinate all Swedes aged 18 and over in July is not achieved. That has now been adjusted to September.