Sweden: Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Stockholm, Sweden

It has now been more than a month since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus first appeared in Sweden.

As you may all know, our executives have chosen a nearly unique path through the novel coronavirus pandemic, one that has been criticized all over the world – a path that in all fairness may be based upon a rather naive assumption that it was herd immunity that stopped the outbreak in Wuhan City, China. I truly believe that the Swedish authorities have thrown in the towel and have opted, “without saying it”, for that much discussed herd immunity strategy – a path the British authorities initially followed – in which the disease is allowed to proliferate until a sufficient percentage of people overcome the disease and act as a barrier providing the so-called “herd immunity” – which is unfortunately scientifically uncertain. Exposure to the four endemic coronaviruses produces immunity that lasts longer than that to influenza, but not permanent immunity. Like respiratory syncytial virus, which can re-infect adults who had it in childhood, coronavirus immunity wanes.

Nevertheless, our chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell denied that there is no “hidden agenda”, saying that the overall objective of the Government’s efforts is to reduce the pace of the COVID-19 virus’s spread: to ‘flatten the curve’ so that large numbers of people do not become ill at the same time. In fact, according to the government site our Swedish government is aiming to:

  1. Limit the spread of infection in the country
  2. Ensure that health and medical care resources are available
  3. Limit the impact on critical services
  4. Alleviate the impact on people and businesses
  5. Ease concern
  6. Implement the right measures at the right time

As for me, whatever objectives or strategies our government may want to implement it should always be measured by the amount of lives we’ve saved and how well we’ve protected our elderly and our citizens in the high-risk group. Unfortunately for Anders Tegnell and the rest of our executives, that and most of the points in the list mentioned above have not been accomplished – as the coronavirus is now found in more than 100 elderly homes in Stockholm, the infection keep spreading faster than ever, and people are loosing their time as never before in our modern history.

Truly, it shouldn’t be a surprise – in all honesty, the measures that have been taken are far from enough to save our elderly and those of us in the high-risk group – neither is it enough to avoid the collapse of the health system. In Stockholm for instance, all our hospitals are saturated, although efforts are being made to increase capacity (with a field hospital on the Älvsjö fairground, for example), there will not be beds for all the sick.

Health authorities have calculated that 350 intensive care units will be needed in Stockholm when the peak is reached; many experts on the other hand calculated that it will be double. And it will be chaos – where will these other 350 patients who need an intensive care unit go? 

There has been a scary talk of a home care kind of solution. It seems like a new concept for letting people die at home if they don’t fit in hospitals. If this is the plan, it is a very cynical and inhuman plan if you ask me.

In my humble opinion, I believe that Sweden is far from ready to handle a pandemic such as the novel coronavirus. Our healthcare system is not by anyways ready (Actually, the healthcare system in Sweden has been under significant strain even before the outbreak) and our experts are unable to correctly predict the outcome of the novel coronavirus in our society or guide us with a clear sustainable strategy to save our lives. This is why – I believe – stronger measures need to be introduced. I believe we should follow the path of our neighboring countries and close everything except basic services, and steadily reopen based on our healthcare capabilities – We can maybe no longer prevent a chaotic situation, but perhaps prevent our healthcare system to collapse and provide enough emergency care units to save lives – and so perhaps, prevent a disaster. 

As of this very moment, we are in a rather uncertain situation. We’ve just celebrated Easter, the time of year when residents of Stockholm are supposed to travel to other areas in the country and potentially could help spread the virus even further. The Prime Minister and king Carlos XVI Gustavo have urged everyone to cancel their trips and avoid crowded areas. In a live televised speech, the king of Sweden warned: 

“We will have to live for a long time with the decisions we make today. The journey is long and arduous, but in the end, light triumphs over darkness and we will feel hope again.”

Unfortunately and despite the monarch’s hopeful message and the prime minister’s recommendation, Stockholm this weekend has been more crowded than ever. Restaurant, bars and shopping malls were all opened as usual and people of all ages were enjoying the weekend as if the novel coronavirus never existed. But luckily for us all, It looks like there has been significantly less travel this Easter, at least according to Anders Wallensten, Deputy State Epidemiologist.

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