Intended for healthcare professionals


What now for Sweden and covid-19?

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 22 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n3081
  1. Marta Paterlini, freelance journalist
  1. Stockholm, Sweden
  1. martapaterlini{at}

Sweden has been both praised and vilified for its “light touch” stance during the pandemic, but with a second covid winter approaching, how do its experts rate the country’s pandemic control now, asks Marta Paterlini

“Swedish statistics do not differ from other European countries,” Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist who has been the face of Sweden’s infamous pandemic strategy, tells The BMJ.

“After two years of pandemic Sweden does not stand out. We are not the best, but we are definitely not the worst.”

In contrast to the stricter, often lockdown focused, approaches of many European countries—including its neighbours in Scandinavia—Sweden’s strategy has relied on individuals taking responsibility under non-binding recommendations.1 In the first six months of the pandemic, the government enacted extensive work from home measures for those that could, as well as remote learning for over 16s.

The public acquiesced and there was little debate about the stance, bar a group of 22 scientists who were outspoken about the high number of coronavirus deaths among the elderly, which was significantly higher than that of its Nordic neighbours—131 per million people compared with 55 per million in Denmark and 14 per million in Finland, which all adopted lockdowns.

Tegnell was among those insistent that the lockdowns imposed by other countries were excessive. Compared with other major European countries the number of overall cases and deaths in Sweden was low—just under 93 000 cases and 6000 deaths by 1 October 2020 compared with over 118 000 cases and 10 000 deaths in Belgium, which has a similar overall population size, or the 606 000 cases and 32 000 deaths seen in France and other larger countries, according to Our World in Data.

But by winter 2020 a second wave with the new alpha variant brought a spike in cases.2 In the six …

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