Sweden’s per capita death toll from the coronavirus has climbed higher than its Scandinavian neighbours, prompting questions about its relatively relaxed approach to the global pandemic.
As normally busy parks and cafes are left deserted across Europe, a result of governments’ extraordinary lockdown measures against Covid-19, Sweden has taken a different approach.
The country’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell has argued for a “low-scale” lockdown which he says is more sustainable in the long-term.
However, Sweden’s per capita death toll is starting to accelerate while its cities remain busy and many businesses stay open.
Since the start of the outbreak in the country, Sweden, with a population of 10 million, registered 919 deaths as of April 13, while neighbouring Denmark, with 5.8 million people, has 273 deaths.
Mr Tegnell said that Swedes should expect to see a further jump in cases and fatalities on Tuesday as official statistics catch up with the situation in the country’s hospitals.
The daily rate of deaths in Sweden from Covid-19 is believed to be higher than current figures suggest because of under-reporting over the Easter holiday.
Proportionally, for weeks Sweden and Denmark remained similar in terms of Covid-19 cases and fatalities. Now, however, Sweden’s mortality rate reached more than 88 dead per million, compared with about 47 dead per million in Denmark.
Stockholm’s liberal approach has drawn attention and criticism. At the end of March, 2,300 academics signed an open letter to the government calling for tougher measures to protect the healthcare system.
US President Donald Trump has said Sweden is suffering because of the choices made in the face of the global health emergency and the decision to pursue “herd immunity”.
The World Health Organisation has similarly expressed scepticism over Sweden’s approach.
The Swedish government has pushed back against the criticism, saying it has never sought to deliberately build up immunity in the population but was rather relying on its citizens taking individual responsibility.
Although outwardly Sweden may appear to be functioning as normal, restrictions have been put in place. So far, Sweden has banned gatherings larger than 50 people, closed high schools and universities, and urged those over 70 or otherwise at greater risk from the virus to self-isolate.
The pandemic has also had an economic impact despite the relaxed measures.
Last week, 25,350 Swedes registered as unemployed, according to the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. The increase is greater than figures recorded during the 2008 financial crisis.