By Tülin Uygur
Sweden’s extraordinary attitude in the process of fighting against the Coronavirus has been met with surprise all over the world. The so-called “Swedish experiment” has sparked some intense criticisms. The Swedish minority government, which has been isolated by its neighbors in the north, is now struggling with increasing criticism from the public, journalists and academics.
Sweden is the only Nordic country to emphasize personal responsibility in handling the virus while taking the minimum measures.Denmark, Norway and Finland, all of which put in place a series of strict measures and declared a state of emergency, have criticized Sweden’s relaxed stance which parallels ideas of herd immunity. Finland has blocked travel into and out of Sweden, completely shutting its western border in fear of the virus. Danish authorities responded to Sweden’s measures by saying: “We are observing Sweden’s approach as if it were a horror film.” Norway on the other hand, indirectly criticizes Sweden’s administrative system by stressing the importance of centralist decisions rather than provincial/state-scale decisions.
Sweden is also taking a different approach in terms of tracking the pandemic than its neighbours, saying that it will not use GPS monitoring.
China, which has proven itself to be a model for its effective fight against the virus, has demanded Sweden be contained by the saying it has surrendered to the virus. For its own part, Sweden insists on ignoring China, the two having been in a diplomatic standoff for some time.
REACTIONS TO THE EQUIPMENT SHORTAGE
The most intense criticism Sweden has received has been a result of a shortage of masks and protective aprons for medical staff. So far, 3 doctors and 2 nurses are in intensive care due to the virus, seemingly confirming these criticisms. Comparisons are made between Chinese medics, who had prevented the spread of the virus by wearing masks and protective aprons when operating, with Italy and Spain where there was a high death rate among medical professionals due to equipment limitations. Chinese and Korean officials stress the importance of everyone wearing masks.
Swedish authorities, rather than requiring the public to wear masks, have even made changes in procedures related to mask and protective apron use, asking medical staff to work without them. Unions and doctors were understandably disturbed, prompting officials to justify their decision by saying that they now know the virus better. More than 2,000 doctors, professors and researchers signed a petition to introduce stricter measures, saying that “we have unleashed the virus and this will lead to a disaster”.
With that in mind, Union representatives threaten to close the quarantine sections in some hospitals if the safety of employees is not fully provided. The shortage of masks and hand sanitizers is growing, according to a report leaked to the press. While the fight against the virus carries on, equipment shortages have resulted in medical personnel not coming to work or going into quarantine after showing the symptoms of the virus. This has led to workforce shortages in the healthcare sector at all levels. To close the gap in sanitizer lotion production, famous vodka producer Absolut has begun producing pure alcohol for the healthcare sector, while another company makes it into a gel.
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WEALTHIER SKIERS WERE PATIENT 0
Ski enthusiasts returning from Italy and Austria in the early March entered the country without being quarantined and had continued their normal lives until they showed symptoms of a disease, starting the spread of the virus. After the number of cases rose in Stockholm, middle schools, high schools, universities, technical schools and adult education centers were closed on March 18. However, kindergartens and primary schools are still open. In many countries, the number of people gathering in the same area was restricted to 2-10 people: the limit was 500 in Sweden and has since been reduced to 50. Gyms, swimming pools, restaurants, and even salad buffets inside the restaurants, are still open. Reducing public transport services in Stockholm did not keep people off the streets, and instead led the people who had to go to work to commute on even more crowded buses. With the upcoming Easter holiday in sight, ski enthusiasts were not banned from travel from major cities to more mountainous regions, but were advised not to visit ski resorts.
All visits to nursing homes are banned after April 1, since instructions to avoid visiting the elderly were being ignored, resulting in almost all nursing homes being contaminated with the virus. The life of the elderly, the most vulnerable sections of the population, has been put at serious risk. Nevertheless, the Swedish government refuses to implement stricter measures. The Swedish people, who are trying to find their way amidst the government’s advice and prohibitions, continue their daily lives and habits taking only small measures. Accepting the government’s statement that “Covid-19 will infect everyone eventually just like the flu,” most have not lost hope that if they do get sick, they will be looked after properly.
IMMIGRANTS IN DANGER
The virus has been spread rapidly in the immigrant majority districts in Stockholm. The expectation of personal responsibility has far worse results among immigrants less able to access public information, insufficient flow of information for the immigrant groups, language barriers and technological deficiencies. Factors such as poverty, large families living in small cramped houses and lack of self-isolation are increasing the risks. In addition, according to the previous research, public health is already problematic in these districts.The chances of those who already have health problems are low in the event that choices need to be made between patients when respiratory units are insufficient.
According to an analysis, because of limited antibiotic use, almost all illnesses are treated with painkillers and fever-reducing drugs in Sweden, as a result of which the public’s immunity is said to be high. In other words, the ostensibly athletic, high-immunity people of Sweden have become the test subjects of a new healthcare model, what we might call “the Swedish experiment.”
THE PRIVATIZED SYSTEM HAS COLLAPSED
In Sweden, where social democracy has ruled for 36 years without any interruption, major changes were made in the social welfare system under the influence of liberal trends of the 1980s and 1990s, during which time institutional erosion took place. The conservative coalition government that came to power in the 2000s has gradually destroyed the social welfare system. The state withdrew from the key sectors and shrunk. In addition to that, regionalization was implemented in place of the former centralized system. Decisions started to be made independently in 25 different provinces/states regions instead of by the central government. Neo-liberalism and globalism easily took over Sweden after social democrats adapted to the trend started by the conservatives.
With privatization, new money-driven actors started to appear and prosper. Swedish resources were transferred overseas in large amounts. Hospitals became corporations managed from abroad. The number of intensive care units fell from 4,300 in 1993, to 574 in 2018. After the state monopoly was privatized the “pharmaceutical authority” responsible for storing medicines and materials for the army and the public during times of crisis were used for day to day needs. When the crisis eventually came, the stocks were empty. In the same way, when the decisions about the health supplies which were previously regulated and stored by the central government were given to regional administrations, such warehouses were disassembled. Sweden lost its domestic production power in compliance with European Union (EU) competition laws.
MUCH GRATITUDE FOR ALIBABA
In response to the current crisis, parliament has made a decision to restore the central government’s role in storing medical supplies. Things went south for Sweden when Germany, Spain and France, stopped exporting the medical supplies they now needed for their own populations. The situation has made it abundantly clear that the alleged spirit of solidarity and brotherhood of the glorious EU is just a bluff. Good thing that Sweden has China’s Alibaba as a resource. Alibaba received a warm expression of gratitude at a press conference for its generous donations to the Swedish people.
Many actors, including the army, are predicting that the need for intensive care units will soon increase dramatically. The exhibition pavilion in Stockholm is being converted into an intensive care hospital. The number of available beds is currently limited, but will be increased shortly. Arrangements have been made to allow the medical personnel to be shifted to areas of need. Fees and working hours will be increased in addition to this.
NEW PACKAGE ANNOUNCED
The Swedish government has offered generous aid to prevent the economic crisis and offered support for companies of all sizes. Additional economic packages for smaller municipalities and regional governments are coming one after the other. Despite the aid, bankruptcies, unemployment and applications for social security are increasing substantially. Unemployment has reached its highest level in history. It was announced by the Ministry of Finance that the government could become a shareholder to save some large and important companies, and that the taxpayers will also be compensated in some way.
Despite the harsh public criticism, Social Democrat (S) Prime Minister Lofven’s public support has risen by 2.4%, while public support for the anti-EU, anti-migrant Sweden Democrats (SD), considered the majority party before the outbreak began, has fallen 1.04%.
On the other hand, at a questions and answers session in the Swedish parliament the previous day, all parties agreed that the violence against women should be prevented and asked that women’s organizations not be forgotten in relation to other economic measures. Violence against women during the quarantine period is predicted to increase.
The upcoming days will show whether or not Sweden’s experiment was a success, but as of April 2, the death toll in Sweden (with a population of 10 million) is at 282, the number of cases at 5,466 and the number of patients in the intensive care units at 429.