Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sweden opts for voluntary social distancing

Coronavirus: Has Sweden got its science right? | BBC News -  Maddy Savage, Stockholm:

April 25, 2020 - "There is no lockdown here.... On the face of it little has shut down. 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. Viewed through the eyes of the Swedish Public Health Agency, the way people have responded is one to be celebrated, albeit cautiously.

"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.

"In Stockholm, the epicentre of the virus so far, cases have largely plateaued, although there was a spike at the end of this week, put down partly to increased testing. There is still space in intensive care units and a new field hospital at a former conference venue is yet to be used. 'To a great part, we have been able to achieve what we set out to achieve,' says state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. 'Swedish healthcare keeps on working, basically with a lot of stress, but not in a way that they turn patients away....' [T]he Swedish Public Health Agency has maintained high approval ratings throughout the pandemic.

"Sweden's decision to leave larger parts of society open than most of Europe came after Dr Tegnell's team used simulations which anticipated a more limited impact of the virus in relation to population size than those made by other scientists, including those behind a major report by Imperial College, London. That report apparently swayed the UK government to introduce a lockdown.

"In addition, the Swedish Public Health Agency pushed the idea early on that a large proportion of cases were likely to be mild. But it denied its strategy was based on the overall goal of herd immunity. A core aim was to introduce less stringent social distancing measures that could be maintained over a long period [of] time. Schools for under-16s have remained open to enable parents to keep working in key areas....

"Sweden, with a population of 10 million, remains amongst the top 20 in the world when it comes to the total number of cases.... It has higher death rates in relation to its population size than anywhere else in Scandinavia. Unlike in some countries, Sweden's statistics do include elderly care home residents, who account for around 50% of all deaths. Dr Tegnell admits that is a major concern.... Foreign residents, particularly those from Somalia who are more likely to live in multi-generational households, are also overrepresented in the figures....

"What happens next in Sweden may largely depend on people carrying on with social distancing.... On social media there has been vocal dissent from some foreign residents championing tougher measures. Meanwhile, there are signs that others living in Sweden believe the worst of the crisis is over. Mobile phone data suggests Stockholm's residents are spending more time in the city centre than a fortnight ago, and last weekend police raised concerns about overcrowding in nightlife hotspots. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has warned it is 'not the time to relax' and start spending more time with friends and family. But with spring weather arriving after Sweden's notoriously long, dark winter, that may be easier said than done."

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