Sweden’s king has said his country “failed” to save lives with its relaxed approach to the pandemic.
Sweden has never imposed a full lockdown and has seen nearly 350,000 cases and more than 7,800 deaths – a lot more than its Scandinavian neighbours.
King Carl Gustaf said on Swedish television, “We have a large number who have died and that is terrible. The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously.”
When asked if he was afraid of being infected with Covid-19 himself, the 74-year-old said, “Lately, it has felt more obvious, it has crept closer and closer.”
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he agreed with the king’s remarks. “The fact that so many have died can’t be considered as anything other than a failure,” he told reporters.
He also said he felt many experts had underestimated the second wave.
Throughout the pandemic, Sweden has never imposed a nationwide lockdown or the wearing of masks, and bars and restaurants have remained open.
Instead of relying on specially passed new laws, Sweden has been appealing to its citizens’ sense of responsibility and civic duty by issuing only recommendations. There are no punishments if people ignore them.
However, in response to rising Covid-19 cases, secondary schools across the Stockholm region were asked to switch to distance learning for the first time, earlier this week.
And on Monday, new nationwide social-distancing recommendations for the Christmas period were introduced. Swedes are now advised to gather outdoors if possible and avoid travelling by train or bus.
Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, told the BBC last month the relaxed approach relied on a combination of legal and voluntary measures, saying, “For Sweden, this is the combination that we really believe is the best one.”
However, according to an official report released earlier this week, the strategy failed in its effort to protect the elderly in care homes. The government has admitted responsibility for this. Over 90% of Covid-related deaths have been among those aged 70 and over, and nearly half have been in care homes.
Sweden has had more deaths than the rest of the Nordic countries combined. This has led to criticism from the country’s neighbours, Norway, Denmark and Finland, that its casual approach is putting their own populations at risk.