STOCKHOLM, February 25 (Xinhua) – The Swedish government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic was too slow and characterized by a lack of leadership, according to a report released by the independent Corona Commission here on Friday.
“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, President of the Commission, when he presented his final report.
Since the pandemic began two years ago, COVID-19 has claimed 17,000 lives from a population of 10.4 million.
“Sweden should have opted for more rigorous and urgent 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, relevant administrations, regions and municipalities.
Instead, while most other countries applied strict lockdown rules, the Swedish strategy was based on advice, recommendations and voluntary measures.
Although the Commission considered that this was in principle an appropriate approach as the government should not unnecessarily restrict the freedoms of its citizens, the report stated that “it must not stand in the way of more rigorous measures that may be required in particularly critical phases.”
“Previous and further measures should have been taken to try as far as possible to slow down the spread of the virus in society,” 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 centers, restaurants, public swimming pools and indoor cultural and sports events should have been closed and canceled as early as March 2020. However, this was not possible due to legislation that was not changed until mid-April the same year.
“This was, as we said in our second interim report, too late,” the Commission said in its final report.
It also found that “The Swedish Public Health Agency should not have rejected the use of (facial) masks as a disease prevention and control measure in indoor environments and in public transport.”
While most other countries early introduced mandatory face mask rules, the Public Health Agency said they could do more harm than good and give a false sense of security. When the agency changed in December 2020 and urged individuals to wear a mask when using public transportation, 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 authority was setting the pace and that the government did not mind it doing so.”
Consequently, the government’s leadership in dealing with the pandemic was unclear.
In addition to criticizing the handling of the pandemic, the Corona Commission also said that their investigation was hampered by substandard documentation and by “the initial reluctance of government offices to help.”
The Commission did not analyze the latest developments, such as the government’s handling of the Omicron variant, which flooded Sweden in January and brought critical services to the brink of collapse.
It therefore did not review the recent decision to remove virtually all restrictions and advised that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should be tested.
The Corona Commission also said that the handling of the pandemic deserves further investigation.
“The fact that the pandemic is not over means that it can only be considered as a provisional balancing of the books,” the final report states.