STOCKHOLM — The scene at Norrsken House Stockholm, a coworking space, oozed with radical normalcy: Young, turtleneck-wearing hipsters schmoozed within the coffee corner. Others chatted freely, sometimes quite near each other , in cozy conference rooms. Face masks were nowhere to be seen.
It appeared like January, before the spread of the coronavirus in Europe, but it had been actually the week before last, as many European nations were tightening restrictions amid a surge of latest cases. In Sweden, new infections, if tipping upward slightly, still remained surprisingly low.
“I have potentially many tiny interactions when working here,” said Thom Feeney, a Briton who manages the coworking space. “Our work lives shouldn’t be reduced to only the screen ahead folks . Ultimately, we are social animals.”
Normalcy has never been more contentious than now in Sweden. Almost alone within the Western world, the Swedes refused to impose a coronavirus lockdown within the spring, because the country’s leading health officials argued that limited restrictions were sufficient and would better protect against economic collapse.
It was an approach that transformed Sweden into an unlikely ideological lightning rod. Many scientists blamed it for a spike in deaths, whilst many libertarians critical of lockdowns portrayed Sweden as a model. During a recent Senate hearing in Washington, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. communicable disease specialist, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., angrily clashed over Sweden.
For their part, the Swedes admit to creating some mistakes, particularly in nursing homes, where the price was staggering. Indeed, comparative analyses show that Sweden’s death rate at the peak of the pandemic within the spring far surpassed the rates in neighboring countries and was more protracted. (Others means that Sweden’s overall death rate is like that of the us .)
Now, though, the question is whether or not the country’s current low caseload, compared with sharp increases elsewhere, shows that it’s found a sustainable balance, something that each one Western countries are seeking eight months into the pandemic — or whether the recent numbers are just a short lived aberration.
“It looks positive,” said
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, who gained global fame and notoriety for having kept Sweden out of lockdown in March.
With a population of 10.1 million, Sweden averaged a touch quite 200 new cases each day for several weeks, although in recent days that number has jumped to about 380. The per capita rate is way less than nearby Denmark or Netherlands (if above the negligible rates in Norway and Finland). Sweden is additionally doing much better , for the instant , than Spain, with 10,000 cases each day , and France, with 12,000.
Critics say Sweden doesn’t test for the virus as thoroughly as many other nations — with 142,000 tests for the week ending Sept. 13. Britain, with about sixfold the population, tested only 587,000 people within the most up-to-date week, far fewer per capita than Sweden. And Britain conducted much more tests than France, Germany or Spain therein period.
In early September, 1.2% of tests in Sweden were positive, compared with about 7% currently in Northwest England, Britain’s hardesthit area.
In response to the recent outbreaks, many European countries are imposing new restrictions. But political leaders, anxious to avoid unpopular and economically disastrous lockdowns, are relying totally on social-distancing measures, while trying to preserve a degree of normalcy, with schools, shops, restaurants and even bars open.
In essence, some experts say, they’re quietly adopting the Swedish approach.
“Today, all of the ecu countries are more or less following the Swedish model, combined with the testing, tracing and quarantine procedures the Germans have introduced, but none will admit it,” said Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of worldwide Health, in Geneva. “Instead, they made a caricature out of the Swedish strategy. Almost everyone has called it inhumane and a failure.”
Going its own way
Back within the spring, when other nations were clamping down, Sweden often was vilified for having gone its own way. Its borders stayed open, as did bars, restaurants and schools. Hairdressers, yoga
studios, gyms and even some cinemas remained open, as did public transportation and parks.
Gatherings of quite 50 people were banned, museums closed and sporting events canceled. But that was the extent of the measures, with officials saying they might trust within the common sense of Swedes to stay their distance and wash their hands.
Dr. Flahault lauded Sweden’s government for that a part of its approach.
“The Swedes went into self-lockdown,” he said. “They trusted in their people to self-apply social distancing measures without punishing them.”
But Dr. Flahault also warned about what he called a serious flaw within the Swedish approach.
“They continue to not wear masks,” he said. “That are often an enormous drawback within the Swedish strategy if masks prove effective and key in fighting the pandemic.”
Sweden may additionally just be enjoying a lull between peaks of infection. the general public face of the country’s coronavirus policies, Dr. Tegnell, agrees, saying the numbers can always go up, as they only have. That said, however, “Sweden has gone from being one among the countries in Europe with the foremost spread to at least one that has a number of the fewest cases in Europe,” he said during a recent interview.
Dr. Tegnell said that Sweden would in certain cases prescribe face masks, particularly to contain local outbreaks. And during a break from the past, he told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that he would now even consider limited, local restrictions on movement and faculty closures.
But he still insists that distancing provided overall better protection than masks, which he says could give people a false sense of security.
Dr. Tegnell stressed, as he has repeatedly before, that Sweden didn’t began to realize “herd immunity,” calling it a “myth that has been created.”
‘We changed behavior’
When the pandemic struck within the spring, the Norrsken House Stockholm, during a former tram depot, looked abandoned, as many of its 450 members stayed home. But by mid-August the place seemed normal. People mixed without visible worries or fears. Some minimal precautions were taken: Workstations designed for 6 were restricted to four; hand sanitizer stations were everywhere; and most of the people were social distancing.
“These limitations are getting to be in situ for a touch while, I think, but it doesn’t desire an enormous restriction on your day-to-day life,” said Mr. Feeney, the manager. “There’s a looking for eager to revisit to normal. Finally people feel, ‘OK, we will do that again now. We’ve got through this.’”
The changes are even as noticeable in Sweden’s hospitals. At the Sodersjukhuset hospital in Stockholm within the spring, ambulances were continually unloading COVID-19 patients.
“In April it seemed as if almost everybody had COVID,” said Karin Hildebrand, a cardiologist within the medical care unit. “Even those brought certain coronary failure were positive also .”
Now, Dr. Hildebrand was enjoying a cappuccino before her shift, casually greeting colleagues who seemed even as relaxed.
“We don’t see any COVID positive patients anymore,” she said. “How many are there now on our ward?” she called bent her colleague. “One,” he replied. Dr. Hildebrand smiled.
She was disturbed during the primary wave by what percentage of her friends were lax about social distancing and other precautions. In April, she went on national television to warn Swedes that things was grave.
Now, however, Dr. Hildebrand says Sweden is well prepared for a possible resurgence.
“We changed behavior. I don’t see anybody shaking hands, for instance ,” she said.
Recently, she vacationed within the north of Sweden, hiking and hiking.
“Life is back to normal,” Dr. Hildebrand said. “But in fact there are often a second wave.”
Some experts believe that Sweden is now almost fully on top of things of the virus.
“There are indications that the Swedes have gained a component of immunity to the disease, which, along side everything else they’re doing to stop the infection from spreading, is enough to stay the disease down,” Kim Sneppen, professor of biocomplexity at the Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, said in an interview.