While initially steering clear from restrictions and lockdowns and even eyeing herd immunity, Sweden has since gone with the flow and introduced a plethora of regulations in a bid to limit the spread of the pandemic.
The recent batch of Swedish restrictions has been met with criticism in the press and social media alike, as it has been motivated with a burden on the nation’s healthcare, including from viral respiratory diseases other than just COVID-19 and sparked questions over whether restrictive measures have become the default solution.
Introducing further restrictions, Sweden’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has justified the measures by noting the spread of common viral diseases such as the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in society.
“The spread of infection in Sweden is at historically high levels. And this is happening at the same time as there is a high frequency of respiratory infections such as flu and RSV,” Andersson said in a statement.
In justification, Andersson cited a high burden on the nation’s healthcare.
“For the healthcare and its employees to be able to carry out their tasks in the long term, we need to reduce the spread of infection,” she explained.
The new restrictions imply, among other things, that bars and restaurants must close at 11 pm, with a limit of a maximum of eight people per party. Adults are also encouraged to limit their number of close contacts indoors by refraining from larger dinners, parties and similar social events.
The prime minister’s explanation left journalists and social media users puzzled over whether it was the new normal that society is to be shut down even in the event of common diseases such as the flu.
In his opinion piece in the newspaper Expressen titled “Arbitrary rules – here to stay?”, journalist Viktor Barth-Kron argued that new restrictions are being “pulled out of a hat” without any meaningful evaluation presented for the public.
“It’s not just about COVID-19 anymore either. The question of whether there is a way to roll it all back is starting to get difficult to dismiss,” he mused in his article.
“The prime minister says that even diseases other than COVID burden healthcare, which means that we now have a new normal in which undersized healthcare must be met with restrictions and lockdowns,” Eric Rosén of the newspaper Aftonbladet tweeted.
“New speak: Healthcare is overloaded due to COVID-19, flu and RS viruses. Therefore, the state imposes restrictions so that care can cope with the long term”. Old speak: “The state punishes the population for being itself unable able to perform a core task of running a functioning healthcare,” blogger and podcaster Ashkan Fardost tweeted.
At the onslaught of the pandemic in early 2020, Sweden made international headlines for its standalone approach to tackling the novel coronavirus. While most Western nations shut down and introduced massive restrictions, Sweden initially continued as before, with only a handful of recommendations in place and no mandates whatsoever. Since then, however, restrictions have been rolled out and withdrawn again, depending on the situation.
While its COVID-19 dynamics have been different from those of its Nordic peers due to various strategies pursued at the start of the pandemic, Sweden has in recent days been swept by a similar COVID wave amid a spread of the novel Omicron strain, which is seen as more infectious.
Overall, Sweden, a nation of over 10 million, has seen over 1.4 million cases, with nearly 15,400 deaths.