Sweden – a stark warning for Britain?


COVID-19 is really putting Sweden on the map, and maybe for the wrong reasons.

Unlike most EU countries, Sweden did not try to shut society down. It closed schools for the over-16s and banned gatherings of more than 50 people, but otherwise relied on Swedes’ sense of civic responsibility to observe physical distancing and home working guidelines. Shops, restaurants and gyms remained open

Authorities argued that public health should be viewed in the broadest sense, saying the kind of strict mandatory lockdowns imposed elsewhere were both unsustainable over the long run and could have serious secondary impacts including increased unemployment and mental health problems.

These are not the arguments being employed in the United States but the results are similar in terms of infections per 5 million population.


Sweden is now the Covid country of Europe and though Sweden may argue that it’s death rate per infection is low (511 deaths per million against our 650) , it look like popular support for the strategy is beginning to wane.

An Ipsos survey this week for the Dagens Nyheter newspaper showed confidence in the country’s management of Covid-19 had fallen 11 points to 45% since April, with backing for the national public health agency down 12 points.

The proportion of respondents satisfied with the centre-left government’s actions in the pandemic also fell to 38% in June from 50% the previous month, while the personal approval rating of the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, also slid 10 points.

The political consequences of high infection numbers is also important in the United States.

Over the past two months, Mr Trump’s approval ratings have nosedived, first because of his heavily-criticised response to the coronavirus pandemic and, more recently, his reaction to the antiracism protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Although most developed countries have succeeded in bringing down sharply the number of cases, the US on Thursday saw its biggest one-day total of new coronavirus infections as the pandemic spreads in southern states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona.

A lesson for the UK?

The UK has yet to see the kind of surge in cases we have seen in the US or Sweden , but we seem to be doing our best to catch up.

Having had the very worst numbers in Europe through the early days of lockdown, we appear to be putting ourselves “on the knife-edge”. Last night saw a rave on Clapham Common and isolated instances of youthful insouciance are all over social media.

We have got to keep ahead of the pandemic and if we do the right things in June ,July and August, medical experts say we can avoid a big second wave.

Public health is based on trust, testing needs to be in place, the vulnerable must be protected.

Perhaps the strongest safeguard that Britain has is the political imperative. Getting it wrong, whether for good or bad reasons, means losing public trust and no politician wants to lose its public.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Sweden – a stark warning for Britain?

  1. Ros Altmann says:

    I must admit that I see things very differently. I think Sweden is a model we could all look to, if we open our eyes to the realities. The numbers of people dying per thousand of the population in the UK, Spain, Italy and Belgium are far higher than those in Sweden, so it is hard to make a persuasive case that the lockdowns in other countries have worked better than Sweden’s model. And the numbers of people who have died due to lockdown, rather than dying from Covid, will also be far higher in other countries than in Sweden. People have died of heart trouble, stroke, suicide and isolation that led to dehydration who would not have died without being locked down. People will be dying of cancers that went undetected for 3 or more months and would have been operable but no longer are. The concept of lockdown for more than a very brief period brings its own serious side-effects and we cannot tell yet whether Sweden’s model is the right one or not. Certainly, the evidence so far would suggest that Sweden has done better than we have, or than other EU countries, although of course there are also other Scandinavian countries who have done better, as have many in South East Asia. Maybe wearing masks would be better than anything we have done in EUrope or the US? We cannot know yet. But please don’t write off Sweden unfairly, indeed I admire the way its Government has stuck to its policy and been willing to make its own judgments without following everyone else. Many may disagree with me, but the evidence does not suggest the UK has done better than Sweden, so we could look to them for lessons rather than the other way round.

  2. henry tapper says:

    Ros, you are not alone. Michelle Cracknell has the same view . I have just come off a call with a very happy Swede who thinks his Government is doing a great job.

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