Sweden’s health experts misjudged the resurgence of Covid-19 and ‘didn’t see such a wave in front of them’, prime minister Stefan Lofven has said.
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.
The PM’s comments came as Sweden’s no-lockdown approach, championed by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, was blamed in part for the high death toll in care homes during the first wave.
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.
Sweden’s infection rate has yet to reach the peak of its second wave, a trend which PM Stefan Lofven says was not foreseen by the country’s health advisers
The second-wave death rate has continued to climb in recent weeks, but has yet to reach the peak that was seen during the first wave
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.
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.
Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Lofven, pictured, said health officials had misjudged the second wave of the pandemic
Sweden’s eye-catching strategy of resisting full-scale lockdowns has been championed by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, pictured
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.
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.
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 the other Nordic countries… care for the elderly seems to have been more in focus in the authorities’ early pandemic measures,’ the report said.
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.