The Swedish government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was too slow and characterised by a lack of leadership, according to a report released by the independent Corona Commission.
“We must not forget what the situation looked like in the spring of 2020. Sweden then occasionally had among the highest death rates in Europe,” said Mats Melin, Chairman of the Commission, on Friday when presenting their final report.
Since the start of the pandemic two years ago, Covid-19 has claimed 17,000 lives out of a population of 10.4 million, Xinhua news agency reported.
“Sweden should have opted for more rigorous and intrusive disease prevention and control measures,” said the Commission, which was appointed by the government in June 2020 to evaluate the Covid-19-related measures taken by the government, the administrative agencies concerned, the regions and the municipalities.
Instead, while most other countries enforced strict lockdown rules, the Swedish strategy was based on advice, recommendations and voluntary measures.
Although the Commission found that this was in principle an appropriate approach as the government should not unnecessarily limit their citizens’ freedoms, the report said that “it must not stand in the way of more rigorous action that may be required in particularly critical phases.”
“Earlier and additional steps should have been taken to try as far as possible to slow the spread of the virus in the community,” the report said, suggesting that holidaymakers returning from the Alps, where the first European outbreak was reported, should have been placed in quarantine.
The inquiry also found that shopping centres, restaurants, public indoor swimming pools as well as indoor cultural and sporting events should have been closed and canceled already in March 2020. However, this was not possible due to legislation that was not amended until mid-April 2021.
“This was, as we stated in our second interim report, too late,” the Commission said in their final report.
It also found that “the Public Health Agency should not have dismissed the use of (face) masks as a disease prevention and control measure in indoor settings and on public transportation.”
While most other countries introduced mandatory face mask rules early on, the Swedish Public Health Agency said that they could do more harm than good and give a false sense of security. Once the agency changed its mind in December 2020 and urged individuals to wear a mask when using public transport, many people ignored this.
According to the report, the government also relied too much on the opinion of the agency and especially its Director General.
“It was clear that the agency was setting the pace, and that the government had no objection to it doing so.”
Consequently, the government’s leadership in handling the pandemic was unclear.
Besides criticising how the pandemic was handled, the Corona Commission also said that their inquiry was hampered by substandard documentation and by “the government offices’ initial reluctance to assist.”
The Commission did not analyse recent developments, such as the government’s handling of the Omicron variant that flooded Sweden in January and brought critical services to the brink of collapse.
It did, therefore, not scrutinise the recent decision to remove virtually all restrictions as well as the advice that everyone with Covid-19 symptoms should be tested.
The Corona Commission also said the handling of the pandemic deserves further investigation.
“The fact that the pandemic is not over means that it can only be regarded as a provisional balancing of the books,” it said in the final report.