Sweden’s laxer response to Covid-19 gave its citizens more freedom than most as the pandemic raged. But as other European Union members start to emerge from the worst, Swedes risk being left behind.
Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, responded to a decision by Cyprus to blacklist her countrymen over concerns they might represent an unacceptable contagion risk. “We don’t want discrimination,” she said.
But even among Sweden’s neighbours — Denmark, Finland and Norway — some have voiced concern over the potential risks of opening their borders to a country whose approach to containing the coronavirus has been so controversial. Sweden has roughly four times the fatality rate of Denmark, more than six times that of Finland and almost 10 times Norway’s death rate, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Cyprus’s top epidemiologist, Leondios Kostrikis, said Sweden’s response to Covid-19 “obviously hasn’t worked that well,” according to a report by SVT.
Sweden left its economy open, but advised citizens to maintain social distancing. Neighbouring Denmark, by contrast, shuttered its economy in mid-March and imposed strict laws with harsh penalties for those who don’t comply with them. Denmark’s infection rate has steadily dropped, and even continued to decline since the economy was reopened in stages, starting last month.
Cyprus said its decision to blacklist Sweden, as well as a handful of other nations where infection rates are high, is based on a risk assessment of “basic epidemiological indicators.”
But Linde has vowed to take the matter up with the Cypriots at a meeting of EU ministers.
Linde said she hopes EU members will stick to the facts, and not attempt to set “political markers aiming at showing strength at home.”
Sweden’s government and public health authorities have urged patience. They argue that Covid-19 is likely to prove a long-term threat that makes sudden, temporary lockdowns an ineffective response. Instead, the country is aiming for what it hopes will be a sustainable model over time to contain Covid-19 without crippling society. The idea has widespread support inside Sweden and the World Health Organization has also suggested it might be a model for others to consider as they emerge from enforced lockdowns.
For now, Sweden is keeping its limited measures in place as other countries open up. That means Swedes could end up facing tougher restrictions on movement than citizens elsewhere. Linde says governments need to be “very, very” careful when deciding on borders in the current environment.
The situation at Sweden’s borders underscores the complexity of a pandemic that has hit not only countries, but also regions, unevenly. The worst affected area of Sweden is around Stockholm, while the southernmost part of the country has seen lower infection and death rates than in the area around the Danish capital. Still, Danes can now travel freely into southern Sweden, while Swedes aren’t welcome in Denmark.