Remember in the early days of the pandemic, when people like Tucker Carlson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) advocated that the U.S. follow the Swedish model of avoiding strict lockdowns and letting life carry on largely as normal amid the highly contagious virus?
Well, as the year ends, Sweden is coming to terms with a death toll that is approximately 10 times higher than neighboring Norway and Finland, and now its king has condemned political leaders for their experiment, branding the light-touch strategy a miserable and deadly failure.
“The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions,” King Carl XVI Gustaf, who is traditionally tight-lipped on political matters, told the Swedish state broadcaster SVT. He added, “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible.”
Although it’s remarkable for a king to comment on policy, his actual comments were a statement of the obvious. Anders Tegnell, the country’s top epidemiologist who designed its anti-lockdown strategy, has himself admitted that too many people have died and the country should have done more to prevent the spread of the disease from the outset.
Throughout the pandemic, Swedes have been allowed to go to restaurants and bars with no social-distancing measures in place and, until recently, were allowed to hit the gym and send their kids to school. The country has also broken with the near-universal guidance of recommending that protective face masks be worn in public, except in hospitals.
The sight of Swedes packing restaurants and bars in the first wave of the pandemic led some commentators in the U.S. to urge their own leaders to follow Sweden’s example. That way, they said, the economy would be protected and the virus could make its way through the population and offer a good level of herd immunity to slow down its spread.
Since then, deaths in Sweden have soared well beyond similar-size neighboring countries, and Tegnell previously said there’s no sign that herd immunity is doing anything to slow down the rate of infection. And the Swedish economy still entered a harsh recession—although it was milder than those seen in most other European nations.
The rapid increase in new infections has even caused Sweden to partially abandon its anti-lockdown strategy, with the government imposing tougher rules to reduce the limit on public gatherings to eight people from 50, asking high schools to do their teaching remotely, and banning late alcohol sales. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson warned last month that the measures will harm the economy but are necessary.
Speaking to Swedish network TV4 this week, Tegnell said he was shocked by the second wave of the pandemic, saying, “I think many, with me, are surprised that it has been able to come back so strongly.”
A poll published Thursday showed that support for Tegnell and his approach has collapsed over the past two months.