Sweden’s approach to COVID-19 has been changing

I’ve been following with interest news about Sweden’s approach to the new coronavirus pandemic.

I was born in Sweden (after my parents fled to Sweden from Estonia as refugees in 1944) and lived there for five years before our family travelled to Canada where I have been living since 1951. I’ve been back to visit Sweden many times over the years and have also spent lesser amounts of time in Norway and Finland.

One of my ancestors on my mother’s side is a Swede who settled in Estonia. I feel a strong sense of gratitude for the fact that Sweden accepted refugees from Estonia and elsewhere during the Second World War.

I’ve been following news reports about Sweden’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Here’s a selection of recent articles:

Denmark compared to Sweden

A March 26, 2020 Euronews article is entitled: “Neighbours Denmark and Sweden miles apart on coronavirus confinement.”

Reference to Swedish lifestyle

A March 28, 2020 BBC article is entitled: “Could the Swedish lifestyle help fight coronavirus?”

The subhead reads: “Swedes are used to living alone, following rules and championing innovation. How much will these social norms help during the coronavirus crisis?”

Sweden described as standing apart

A March 28, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “In the coronavirus fight in Scandinavia, Sweden stands apart.”

The subhead reads: “The country has drawn global attention with an unorthodox approach while its neighbors have imposed extensive restrictions.”

Reference to Sweden staying open

An April 2, 2020 Globe and Mail article reads, “Why is Sweden staying open amid the coronavirus pandemic?”

The subhead reads: “While other European countries are under strict lockdowns, Swedes can still go to school, drink at pubs, and mingle in parks and streets. The country’s chief epidemiologist says the unusual measures are rooted in national values of voluntarism and trust – but not everyone thinks they will work.”

Strategy questioned

An April 3, 2020 Reuters article is entitled: “Sweden’s liberal pandemic strategy questioned as Stockholm death toll mounts.”

Reference to U-turn

An April 4, 2020 DW article is entitled: “Sweden seeks U-turn on coronavirus restrictions.”

The subhead reads: “Sweden is one of the few European countries that has not yet put the country under some kind of lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19. The government had demanded emergency powers to change this.”

Reference to anticipated deaths

An April 4, 2020 Bloomberg article is entitled: “Sweden girds for thousands of deaths amid laxer virus response.”

Trust in government put to test

An April 6, 2020 CBC article reads: “Swedes’ trust in government put to test as coronavirus deaths spike.”

The subhead reads: “Some question whether liberal approach has failed, amid indications it may change.”

The Netherlands features initial strategy reminiscent of that of Sweden’s initial approach

Of related interest is an April 5, 2020 BBC article entitled: “Coronavirus: Why Dutch lockdown may be a high-risk strategy.”

An excerpt reads:

But the idea of an intelligent lockdown, driven by evidence and numbers, is very different from the stricter approach in neighbouring Belgium, where fatalities have also been high.

For Dr Van de Pas it’s a cold and calculated Dutch approach, that can perhaps only work in an individualistic society used to a non-interventionist medical culture, from cradle to grave.

While herd immunity, modified as it is, may eventually dampen the effects of the epidemic, it has to be accepted by a substantial part of the population.

The worry is that the Dutch approach may be based more on aspiration than actual intelligence, and that the Netherlands’ “intelligent lockdown” does not make the country immune.

Larger topic of public health leadership

A subsequent post, which addresses public health leadership cultures, is entitled:

Sobering thoughts, regarding distinctions in public health leadership culture

April 7, 2020 Journalist’s Resource article

An April 7, 2020 Journalist’s Resource article is entitled: “Social distancing time frames: How our expectations affect compliance.”

The article addresses issues related to dynamics related to social-distancing measures enacted by authorities in jurisdictions other than Sweden.

An excerpt reads:

In a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, researchers surveyed nearly 900 Italian residents to explore what happens when expectations are shattered about how long social distancing measures, like self-isolation, would last. Participants were less willing to do more self-isolating when told that social distancing time frames would run much longer or shorter than they anticipated.

“In a context where individual compliance has collective benefits, but full enforcement is costly and controversial, communication and persuasion have a fundamental role,” the authors write.

The working paper to which the article refers includes a note that reads:

NBER working papers are circulated for discussion and comment purposes. They have not been peer-reviewed or been subject to the review by the NBER Board of Directors that accompanies official NBER publications.

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