The Swedish approach to Covid-19

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Future: Virology, Epidemiology, Translational Toxicology and Therapeutics

An overview of the Swedish response to the pandemic, which differed greatly from many other countries

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The Swedish response to the Covid pandemic became one of the most talked about topics of 2020. In an article in the New York Times, Sweden was even referred to as a ”pariah state”, an unlikely epithet for a Scandinavian democracy.

Why did Sweden decide to follow such an aberrant path? There are likely two central factors. First, the Swedish constitution declares that Swedes have the right to move freely within Sweden, and to leave the country if they so wish. There is a law, the Swedish infectious diseases act, which allows certain limited restrictions to be put in place, but it does not allow for a general lockdown. And the power of the state to enforce restrictions on individuals is heavily limited. That is likely the main reason why the Swedish response to Covid-19 was so much more circumscribed than that seen in other countries. The second factor is that Swedish state agencies are largely free to run themselves, and the ability of the government to interfere on a day to day basis with the decisions made by civil servants is limited. So the Swedish government was only ever able to have a limited constrained role in the Swedish response. The main decisions were made by civil servants in the Swedish Public Health Authority, with Anders Tegnell being the prime decision maker, thanks to his role as State Epidemiologist.

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