Sweden has remained more or less open throughout the coronavirus crisis preserving its economy. The county is balancing loss of life with loss of livelihood. By doing next to nothing, keeping schools and bars open Sweden is close to reaching “herd immunity” through infection. Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of a population gets infected, recovers, and subsequently becomes immune to further infection. The goal is to achieve “immunity” either through infection or wait for immunity through a vaccine like the U.S.
Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Dr. Anders Tegnell, declares that cases in the capital have plateaued, and that the effects of herd immunity were already apparent.
“In a few weeks’ time we might reach herd immunity and we believe that is why we’re seeing a slow decline in cases, in spite of [testing for coronavirus] more and more,” according to Tegnell who is Sweden’s health chief.
And while it’s a bit early to tell, it could be paying off. Mr Tegnell has said that the capital Stockholm, the country’s outbreak epicentre, “might” reach herd immunity in May.
In Swededn people are encouraged work at home, nursing homes are not accepting visitors, and universities have moved to online learning.
But, people are not stuck at home. Bars, restaurants and gyms have been able to continue operating, provided they follow Sweden’s relatively less strict physical-distancing measures, and schools have also kept their doors open.
“Locking people up at home won’t work in the longer term,” according to Tegnell.
“Sooner or later people are going to go out anyway.”
But officials are warning this doesn’t mean a potentially early end to the pandemic for Sweden, and the country’s approach is not without its critics at home and abroad.
Sweden has had 16,755 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,021 deaths mostly in the elderly: neighboring Norway and Denmark, which have taken more stringent approaches, have just a fraction of those numbers.
Sweden’s strategy to keep large parts of society open is widely backed by the public. It has been devised by scientists and backed by government, and yet not all the country’s virologists are convinced.
Very little has shut down in Sweden, but data suggests the vast majority of the population have taken to voluntary social distancing, which is the crux of Sweden’s strategy to slow the spread of the virus.
Usage of public transport has dropped significantly, large numbers are working from home, and most refrained from travelling over the Easter weekend. The government has also banned gatherings of more than 50 people and visits to elderly care homes.
Around 9 in 10 Swedes say they keep at least a metre away from people at least some of the time, up from seven in 10 a month ago, according to a major survey by polling firm Novus.
The Swedish Public Health Agency applauds the way people have responded to the virus without the government mandating anything.
The scientists’ approach has led to weeks of global debate over whether Sweden has adopted a sensible and sustainable plan, or unwittingly plunged its population into an experiment that is causing unnecessary fatalities, and could fail to keep the spread of Covid-19 under control.
By contrast, in the United States some local governments have adopted draconian policies opposite of Sweden.
Residents in Riverside County, California, are now required to wear face coverings and could face a fine of $1,000 per violation per day if the mandate, which went into effect Sunday, is ignored.
Recent data from the Riverside University Health System indicated 946 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus within the county with 25 deaths attributable to the illness.
“While more and more Riverside County residents are getting COVID-19, not everybody’s getting the message,” said Riverside County public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser in a statement Saturday. “It started with staying home, social distance and covering your face. But now we change from saying that you should to saying that you must.”