President Donald Trump said Sweden is “paying heavily” for not locking down the country, as much of the rest of the world has, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump, in a critical tweet Thursday, cited the difference in death counts between lockdown-resistant Sweden and its neighbors, which have imposed stiff curbs on citizens in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“Despite reports to the contrary, Sweden is paying heavily for its decision not to lockdown. As of today, 2462 people have died there, a much higher number than the neighboring countries of Norway (207), Finland (206) or Denmark (443),” the president wrote, adding, “The United States made the correct decision!”
As the virus spread, Denmark and Norway were quick to close borders and shut schools, while Finland moved to restrict urban centers and closed most of its schools.
Sweden, by contrast, focused on isolating and treating the sick rather than closing down swathes of society.
Unlike most European countries, Sweden has allowed most schools and businesses to remain open even as its mortality rate in the pandemic has run higher than those of its Nordic neighbors.
The disparity with its neighbors has prompted fierce criticism from some, including Swedish scientists and foreign leaders as countries scrutinize Sweden’s approach as they seek to open shuttered societies and suffering economies.
Still, while on the face of it little has shut down in Sweden, most people have voluntarily heeded calls to social distance, with a survey cited by BBC indicating that 9 out of 10 Swedes saying they keep at least 3 feet away from other people at least some of the time. This is an increase from 7 out of 10 a month earlier.
Also, gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned, high schools and universities have moved to teach online and people have been told not to take unnecessary trips, all low-key measures compared to other European countries and the United States.
“It is important to have a policy that can be sustained over a longer period, meaning staying home if you are sick, which is our message,” said Sweden’s Health Agency Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.
“Locking people up at home won’t work in the longer term,” he said. “Sooner or later people are going to go out anyway.”
“In major parts of Sweden, around Stockholm, we have reached a plateau (in new cases) and we’re already seeing the effect of herd immunity and in a few weeks’ time we’ll see even more of the effects of that. And in the rest of the country, the situation is stable,” Tegnell told CNBC last week.
Tegnell blamed a recent spike in COVID-19 deaths on the spread of the virus in nursing homes.
“Unfortunately the mortality rate is high due to the introduction (of the virus) in elderly care homes and we are investigating the cause of that,” he told CNBC.
But as deaths in the Scandinavian country have increased, its strategy has come under fire. Trump’s tweet echoed the thrust of an open letter issued by 2,300 academics last month, calling for Swedish authorities to reconsider their lax policies.
“We don’t have a choice, we have to close Stockholm right now,” said Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at the Karolinska Institute, and one of the signatories of the letter.
“We must establish control over the situation, we cannot head into a situation where we get complete chaos. No one has tried this route, so why should we test it first in Sweden, without informed consent?” Soderberg-Naucler added.
Sweden’s total COVID-19 infection case count stands at 21,092 as of April 30, according to Worldometers data, while Norway’s is 7,738, Finland’s is 4,995, and Denmark’s is 9,158. In terms of the number of infections per one million of population, Sweden’s count is at 2,088 as of April 30, while Norway’s is 1,427, Finland’s is 902, and Denmark’s is 1,581.
By comparison, the United States’ total COVID-19 infection case count is 1,068,562, while per one million of population, it is 3,228.
Even though Sweden’s approach has prompted skepticism, around three-quarters of Swedes have expressed high or very high confidence in the Public Health Agency, a survey from Novus showed this month.
“I believe in our strategy and I believe that the authorities can’t make us stay at home,” said tattoo artist Zashay Rissanen Tastas, who inked Tegnell’s face onto the arm of a customer as a tribute to the popular epidemiologist.
“If we keep our distance it’s probably going to be fine,” Tastas added.
Trump, too, acknowledged that calls for voluntary distancing in Sweden appeared to be having an effect.
“The people in Sweden, they’re not running around and shaking hands and hugging and kissing each other,” Trump said at a meeting with business leaders at the White House on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister “doesn’t have to say in Sweden, ‘stay in your house,'” Trump said.
“The people stay there automatically,” he added.