Sweden’s king said his country’s no-lockdown coronavirus approach had ‘failed’ and people had ‘suffered tremendously’ as a result.
Carl XVI Gustaf, whose son and daughter-in-law tested positive last month, used an annual royal Christmas TV special to highlight the growing impact of the virus
In a rare intervention from a monarch whose duties are largely ceremonial, the 74-year-old remarked that the number of deaths in the country was ‘terrible’.
His words come after Sweden registered more than 7,800 deaths yesterday, a much higher per capita rate than its Nordic neighbors but lower than in Britain, Italy, Spain or France.
The country has stood out from most other international responses to the coronavirus pandemic, with a relaxed approach championed by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.
Lockdowns and face masks were shunned, schools, restaurants and businesses were largely open and voluntary social distancing and hygiene recommendations to slow the spread.
King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, pictured with wife Queen Silvia, spoke during a Christmas TV special and claimed the country’s coronavirus approach had ‘failed’ and people had ‘suffered tremendously’
During the programme, the 74-year-old monarch remarked that the number of deaths in the country was ‘terrible’
‘I believe we have failed,’ the king said in an excerpt from the program broadcast by SVT on Wednesday. The full show airs on Dec. 21.
‘We have had a large number of deaths and that is terrible. That is something that brings us all suffering.
‘The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions. One thinks of all the family members who have happened to be unable to say goodbye to their deceased family members.
‘I think it is a tough and traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye.’
During the excerpt, speaking about the possibility of being infected with coronavirus he said: ‘Lately it has felt more obvious, it has crept closer and closed. That’s not what you want.’
While in the spring the government’s response was widely supported by Swedes who carried on much as normal while most of Europe entered lockdown, the rising death toll – particularly among elderly residents of care homes – has drawn increasing criticism.
Yesterday Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Sweden’s health experts misjudged the resurgence of Covid-19 and ‘didn’t see such a wave in front of them’.
The king’s words come after Sweden registered more than 7,800 deaths yesterday, a much higher per capita rate than its Nordic neighbors
Medical advisers ‘talked about different clusters’ but did not recommend tough measures to contain a second wave, which in fact has infected nearly 250,000 people in the autumn and winter, Lofven told the newspaper Aftonbladet.
A report by a special commission said the community spread of Covid-19 was likely the biggest factor behind the thousands of deaths, adding that Sweden’s Nordic neighbours had paid more attention to elderly care during the pandemic.
Now, the unforeseen second wave has strained Sweden’s healthcare system and forced the government to adopt its toughest restrictions to date, although it is still holding out against a full-scale lockdown.
Tegnell had defended his strategy during the spring by arguing that lighter measures were more sustainable over the long term.
‘If it looks like we’re going to get a second wave in the fall with a lot of cases, we could easily continue doing what we’re doing today,’ he predicted in April.
In fact, Sweden has limited public gatherings to eight people and banned alcohol sales after 10pm during the second wave, though it is still dismissive of mask use.
Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lofven, pictured, said health officials had misjudged the second wave of the pandemic
There have also been signs of politicians such as Lofven taking a more prominent role at the expense of health officials such as Tegnell.
After cases and deaths reached their lowest levels at the start of September, the infection rate went surging up again during the autumn and has yet to come down.
The last week has seen a new record of more than 43,000 cases added to the tally, while another 467 people have died – taking the total to 7,667.
Around half of the total deaths are thought to have been residents in elderly care, the subject of the damning report published on Tuesday.
Mats Melin, the inquiry head, said there were major structural shortcomings in elderly care in Sweden for which local authorities and previous governments were partly to blame.
‘But we want to say that it is the government that rules the country and has the ultimate responsibility,’ Melin told a news conference.
Sweden’s eye-catching strategy of resisting full-scale lockdowns has been championed by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, pictured
Despite official talk of ‘ring-fencing’ the elderly from Covid-19, the commission said that too little was done to protect the elderly during the first wave.
‘The aspect of [the strategy] which centred on protecting the elderly failed. There is no other way to view the fact that so many died in Covid-19,’ Melin said.
‘The government should have taken steps to ensure the elderly care was better prepared for the pandemic.’
Employees in elderly care were ‘largely left alone to handle the crisis situation’, the commission said in its initial findings.
It also pointed to poorly educated staff and low levels of nurses and doctors in elderly care.
‘In the other Nordic countries… care for the elderly seems to have been more in focus in the authorities’ early pandemic measures,’ the report said.
People walk on a quayside in Stockholm where stay-at-home measures have never been imposed, making Sweden a closely-watched outlier in Europe
In November, Sweden’s Health and Social Care Inspectorate said it had found ‘serious shortcomings’ in elderly care.
In only six per cent of cases reviewed were nursing home Covid-19 patients given a physical examination by a doctor, the inspectorate found.
PM Lofven has defended the country’s overall strategy but admitted that Sweden failed to shield the elderly.
Sweden has suffered many times more deaths per capita than its Nordic neighbours, although fewer than some European countries that opted for lockdowns.
On Monday, Sweden’s statistical agency said it had recorded a total of 8,088 deaths from all causes in November – the highest mortality ever reported in the Scandinavian country since the first year of the 1918-20.
In November 1918, 16,600 people died in the Scandinavian country, said Tomas Johansson of Statistics Sweden.
Sweden asks members of the public with medical training to help doctors in Stockholm as city battle intensive care crisis amid coronavirus second wave
Despite a sharper tone from authorities and new restrictions, Sweden is struggling to contain a strong second wave of Covid-19 it thought it could avoid.
The capital Stockholm is once again at the epicentre of the epidemic and this week called on members of the public with medical training to help offset some of the burden on healthcare.
Lars Falk, a doctor at an intensive care unit at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, told AFP the second wave had hit much harder than they expected.
‘We got three different scenarios from the Public Health Agency this summer. We prepared for the worst, and it turned out twice as bad,’ Falk told AFP.
Others regions are also seeing resources stretched thin.
On Monday, the number of people receiving hospital care reached 2,406, near the peak of 2,412 on April 20.
For now, the number of people in intensive care is still less than half the level seen in April, according to Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 in the country of some 10.3 million reached 7,802 on Wednesday, with more than 500 in the last week and over 1,800 since the beginning of November.