Are Swedes really conquering Covid with their out-of-the-box thinking on dealing with the pandemic? 

Another deadly wave of coronavirus is sweeping through Europe, leading to strict lockdowns and states of emergency. But Sweden is sticking to its no-lockdown strategy of voluntary social distancing.

Today The Detail looks why millions of Swedes are in behind the government’s liberal approach, when the pandemic has killed thousands of people there.

University of Auckland epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson says Sweden has failed.

“It’s one of the worst possible outcomes you can imagine. They should have had zero deaths and yet they’ve got 6000 deaths. We’ve got 24 deaths; we have much more poverty in this country; we don’t have many households where people live alone – and yet we’ve succeeded where they’ve failed.”

Presenter Sharon Brettkelly also talks to Rachel Irwin, a researcher in ethnology in the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences at Lund University. She’s studied international media coverage of the Swedish situation and says some of the reporting on issues such as herd immunity is dangerous.

“It just became this monster where you do see people in different countries, the US and the UK, who are saying, ‘Oh well Sweden did nothing they had a herd immunity strategy so we should do that too’ ….. and this is a very, very dangerous misinterpretation.”

Irwin says herd immunity is not an official strategy of the Swedish government and the country stayed ‘open’ partly because compulsory lockdown measures enforced in other countries are “not possible under Swedish law, at least not during peacetime”.

Despite the liberal, no-lockdown approach, Irwin says her life is far from normal – she works from home or an office where she is the sole worker, she cycles to work instead of using public transport, she lives in a small community and buys essentials at a farm shop.

Not everyone sticks to social distancing, Irwin says. Public gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 50 people but “the idea is that people accept that as a limit on their private gatherings as well”.

“Legally speaking I could have a party in my apartment for 50 people or more but I wouldn’t do that because my neighbours would never talk to me again.”

She says the increased Covid cases since the Northern Hemisphere summer is due to complacency.

“People are slacking off a bit more but I think the fact that we’re starting to see this rise in cases, it’s also a reminder to people that, oh wait, we can’t slack off.”

In today’s episode, Irwin runs through the myths and misconceptions of the Swedish strategy, which is one that plenty of New Zealanders have been urging our government to follow.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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