Sweden rebuked for failing to protect the elderly from coronavirus

Country’s leader Stefan Lofven admits misjudging power of second wave

FILE PHOTO: A member of nursing staff vaccinates a person against influenza as vaccination to high risk group patients is administered outdoors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Trelleborg, southern Sweden November 19, 2020.   TT News Agency/Johan Nilsson via REUTERS      ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN./File Photo
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Sweden failed to protect the elderly as care home staff were left to battle the coronavirus crisis on their own, an inquiry found.

The findings are another damning indictment of Sweden’s hands-off coronavirus strategy, which involved encouraging social distancing and good hygiene while schools and businesses remained open.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Tuesday that Swedish health officials underestimated the strength of the second wave.

As part of the country’s plan of action, the government announced its intention to “ring-fence” the elderly from Covid-19, while letting society build up herd immunity to the virus. The plan backfired, however, as deaths in care homes escalated in line with surging community transmission.

An official commission set up to examine the deaths said in its preliminary report that the overall spread of the virus, combined with “structural failings”, meant nursing homes were not ready to cope with the crisis.

"These shortcomings meant that elderly care was unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic," the commission said. "The employees in elderly care were largely left alone to handle the crisis situation."

Nursing home residents account for about half of Sweden’s 7,514 deaths to date.

Mr Lofven said health officials misjudged the power of the resurgence of the virus.

"I think that most people in the profession didn't see such a wave in front of them, they talked about different clusters," he told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Sweden recently experienced a rapid increase in new coronavirus cases that pushed its healthcare system to the brink. Infections spread quickly among medical staff and the government tightened restrictions, imposing a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol after 10pm in bars and restaurants and banning public gatherings of more than eight people.

The country last week asked its Nordic neighbours Norway and Finland for help in treating patients in intensive care units, which are close to being overwhelmed.