Swedish government response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Actions by the Swedish government on COVID-19 pandemic / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Sweden's unique response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the subject of significant controversy in both domestic and international circles. Unlike most countries, which strongly recommended or introduced widespread sector closures, quarantining, and lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019, the government of Sweden took a more lenient approach to the pandemic, prioritizing the economy and only pursuing social distancing measures such as bans on large gatherings and limited travel restrictions.
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Sweden had made preparations for a pandemic in previous years, with the Public Health Agency of Sweden designated as the responsible body in a disease outbreak but without the authority to pass laws itself. In the Swedish political system, the cabinet with legislative authority is mandated to follow the advice of government agencies (in this case the Public Health Agency) and very rarely overrules this, as ministerial governance is prohibited under the Basic Laws of Sweden. Crisis management in Sweden instead follows the "principle of responsibility".
Upon the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Health Agency initiated contact tracing and outlined its strategy to protect the country's most vulnerable citizens and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed. As the outbreak spread, the agency advised those with respiratory symptoms to avoid social contacts, work from home if possible, minimise travel, and adhere to social distancing. The government passed a law banning large gatherings, and secondary and higher education institutions were advised to switch to distance education. Press conferences and public communications campaigns were also launched. Unlike most other countries, face masks were not recommended in public or healthcare settings. The agency repeatedly denied pursuing a herd immunity strategy.
On 18 December 2020, Stefan Löfven, the prime minister of Sweden, announced new and tougher restrictions and recommendations including the use of face masks in public transportation and closure of all non-essential public services. In January 2021, a new pandemic law was passed that allows for the use of lockdown measures and legally limited some gatherings. Further measures were introduced in July and December 2021, such as vaccine passports.
Reception for the government's response has been mixed. An independent commission was launched to evaluate the measures taken by the government, the administrative health authorities, and regional municipalities. The commission criticized the response of the government, citing among other things a failure to protect the elderly population, that the Swedish response was marked by slowness, with initial measures "insufficient to stop or even substantially limit the spread of the virus in the country," and that the Swedish healthcare system would face long-term consequences due to "the price of extreme pressure on staff and of cancelled and postponed care." In their final report, the commission described Sweden not introducing lockdowns as "fundamentally correct" for maintaining personal freedoms, but were critical of the decisions not to introduce "more rigorous and intrusive disease prevention and control measures" in February and March 2020.
Sweden's unique approach also became a divisive topic of debate, receiving significant international media coverage and criticism both domestically and internationally, and with those who oppose or support public health restrictions often citing the Swedish response as an example.