Sweden, unlike its Nordic neighbors -- and the rest of the world, for that matter -- has largely taken a softer and non-draconian approach to fighting the ongoing pandemic, opting instead to leave schools, shops and restaurants open to the general public. Social distancing and good hygiene, meanwhile, two factors needed to successfully mitigate the continued spread of the virus, are encouraged but not enforced.
This relatively lax approach on the pandemic has since led to a sudden uptick in the country’s number of cases, with Sweden now the leading country in terms of COVID-19 mortality rate per capita.
According to a tracker developed by the Financial Times, Sweden logged 6.4 deaths per million people two months after its death rate first climbed above 0.1 deaths per million. This rate is much higher when compared to the UK’s 6.2 deaths per million at the same stage, as well as Italy and Spain, which logged rates of 5.5 and 4, respectively.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, previously said that the country’s no-lockdown approach hinged on allowing their people to keep “a reasonably normal life.” (Related: Anti-lockdown Sweden is no success story as study shows large surge in deaths.)
However, despite the relative support coming from the Swedish population regarding the lax implementations, some have been more critical.
“We have one of the highest death rates in the world, which is sad," Stefan Hansson, an expert in international health, said, adding that around two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden could have been avoided had the government enforced a more stringent lockdown policy.
As of press time, Sweden has logged a total 3,831 deaths from COVID-19.
According to Maria Ohisalo, Finland’s interior minister, Sweden’s high death toll and infection rate are the factors that are keeping its fellow Nordic countries -- Denmark, Finland Iceland and Norway -- from easing their travel restrictions and forming a “travel bubble,” in reference to a joint agreement between Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that has allowed free movement between their countries.
“Norway, Denmark and Iceland have managed to stabilise their situation, but in Sweden the situation is more alarming,” Ohisalo said.
With the increased scrutiny in light of the country’s near-meteoric increase in coronavirus-related deaths, Sweden’s nursing care homes and long-term care facilities have been thrust into the spotlight, after critics argued that the country’s elderly are now bearing the brunt of the Swedish authorities’ laissez-faire approach to the pandemic.
The Folkhälsomyndigheten or the Swedish Public Health Agency has since confirmed this, noting in a statement to the BBC that 48.9 percent of the country’s coronavirus deaths were nursing care home residents.
"We did not manage to protect the most vulnerable people, the most elderly, despite our best intentions," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said.
According to critics, the large number of deaths among the elderly can be traced to lack of protective clothing at the nursing homes and care facilities, as well as the flouting of self-quarantine rules among nursing home personnel.
Healthcare workers and professionals have aired criticism as well, noting that regional healthcare authorities have enacted protocols that discourage care home workers from sending residents into hospitals, as well as prevent care home and nursing staff from administering oxygen to patients without a doctor's approval -- even as part of their palliative or end-of-life services.
"There are a lot of different aspects to our approach. Protecting the elderly in the elderly homes was just one of them. That approach did not work very well," Tegnell said, adding that the health authorities are now trying to improve their approach by collaborating with the people running the nursing homes.
As of this writing, 5,194,000 have been infected with the Wuhan coronavirus globally, while 334,622 have been confirmed dead.