WHO official praises Sweden’s COVID-19 response despite higher death rate

August 31, 2020, 7:55 AM UTC

One of the World Health Organization’s six special envoys on COVID-19 has highlighted Sweden’s virus response as a model that other countries should be emulating in the long run.

Dr. David Nabarro, speaking in a radio interview with Magic Talk in New Zealand, said, “For all countries, the real approach we’ve got to aim for is through behavior that’s adopted everywhere.”

Nabarro said the key to a sustainable coronavirus strategy is trust, and pointed to Sweden as a case in point. The Nordic nation imposed far fewer restrictions on movement than others, and instead relied on Swedes to act responsibly and embrace the guidelines laid out by the country’s health authorities.

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“In Sweden, the government was able to trust the public and the public was able to trust the government,” Nabarro said.

To be sure, Sweden’s COVID-19 death rate is considerably higher than in many other countries, at 57 per 100,000. But the pace of new infections and deaths has slowed markedly since the end of June. The development prompted Sweden’s national health agency to propose raising the limit on certain public gatherings to 500 people from 50.

In contrast, other governments around the world are once again imposing stricter measures amid a resurgence in cases.

Nabarro described a lockdown as “a blunt instrument” that “really bites into the livelihoods of everybody, particularly poorer people and small businesses.”

In response to the envoy’s remarks, the director-general of Sweden’s public health agency, Johan Carlson, said in an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet: “We are one of the few countries with a limited spread of infection, unlike several countries in Europe where the infection is returning sharply.”

“I call it the champagne cork effect,” Carlson said.

But Sweden’s COVID strategy still has many critics, including from within the country. Fredrik Elgh, a professor of virology at Umea University, points to the high death toll as evidence the light-touch approach has failed.

“We have almost 6,000 dead. We have betrayed our elderly,” he said in the Svenska Dagbladet report. “We should test and trace infection much more. But the Public Health Agency does not want that.”

Carlson of the public health agency and Sweden’s minister for health and social affairs, Lena Hallengren, are due to hold a press conference on the country’s COVID strategy later on Monday.