Sweden deals with coronavirus without lockdown, but with social distancing

Sweden deals with coronavirus without lockdown, but with social distancing

Agency News

While the world is fighting with coronavirus with lockdowns, Sweden did not go for lockdown. Instead, the country strictly slapped social distancing and restrictions of gatherings of more than 50.

Schools are open here, public transport is running, cafes and bars are open with the restriction of table service only rather than crowding at the bar.

But till now, around 300 people died and more than 5,000 are suffering from the infections. At the same time, for the past two days, no new cases have been reported. No new death registered.

The government has advised people to try to work from home as far as possible; no shutdown across work places. But a couple of days back, the government banned visits to care homes for the elderly.

It’s not quite business as usual; many are working from home, and people across the country are reported to be practising a degree of social distancing. But this is a long way from a lockdown. Sweden offers no sight of deserted public spaces that we see now around the world. Its cinema halls too are open. Sweden is not coronavirus-free. In fact, far from it.

Sweden has a population of just above 10 million. Some see this as a dangerously different approach. The Swedish government has taken this path as considered policy, on the advice of government scientists.

The government is doing the unthinkable to many scientists in Sweden. More than 2,000 of them have signed a petition asking the government to bring in tighter measures over social distancing.

Chairman of the Nobel Foundation Prof Carl-Henrik Heldin issued a statement last week saying “we have let the virus loose… they are leading us to catastrophe.” This is the path that Britain set out on before a group of 229 scientists warned the government that such a policy could lead to up to half a million deaths by August.

The British government swung into an abrupt U-turn following that warning. And all of Britain now lives in the fear that its government could have lost precious time, and reversed its ways too late.

Anders Tregnell, the chief epidemiologist who has been shaping the Swedish government strategy, is adopting the policy of building “herd immunity” that British scientists had spoken of earlier, and which the government seemed to have followed for a while on their advice.

Under such a policy the virus should actually be allowed to spread. The logic is that this will not affect most people seriously; those who get it, and get over it, can then get on with their lives and with their jobs.

It threatens only the vulnerable who should be advised isolation. They can be welcomed back to normal living once the virus has run its course so that they can no more be infected, because they will interact with only those who’ve had it already.

The policy, says a senior doctor with the National Health Service in Britain, is not just dangerous but “immoral”. Allowing the virus to spread presupposes that the elderly, the ill and the weak can be blocked effectively from catching it. If not, the policy opens them to a greater risk. It’s potentially a policy to sacrifice the vulnerable for the rest to get on with it.

This policy, its opponents among the scientific world in Sweden warn, could also place the youth at greater risk -- deaths from the virus have included a significant number of relatively young people.