By baronmaya – 29-03-20

With most of Europe imposing extraordinary wartime restrictions to slow the spread of Corona-virus in order to derail the economy, Sweden has left its citizens surprisingly free.

Are Swedes rolling the dice with their public health, or is everyone else overreacting? Sweden is taking a markedly more liberal approach to combating the virus.

Despite its closest neighbors, Denmark and Norway, shutting down all but essential services, Swedes remain free to socialize as the harsh Scandinavian winter comes to an end.

Although universities and high schools have shut, pre-schools, kindergartens, bars, restaurants, ski resorts, sports clubs and hairdressers have all remained open.

The streets of Stockholm and Malmo are noticeably quieter than usual, but positively bustling compared to those of Copenhagen, Oslo, London, Paris and Rome.

Standing in bars is banned but as long as punters can find a seat they’re free to enjoy a night out. Other steps taken include gatherings of more than 50 people being banned and the over 70’s being urged to self-isolate if they want to stay alive.

With the exception of Belarus, which hasn’t even suspended its football league, Sweden’s restrictions amount to the most relaxed out there.

This has prompted observers both in and outside the country to wonder if they are playing fast and loose with the nation’s health or taking the most proportionate response in the West.

Prime minister Stefan Lofven has warned that times ahead would be tough but also put the onus on individual Swedes. We all, as individuals, have to take responsibility. We can’t legislate and ban everything.

This tactic is at odds with the strategy in the UK which has been to tell citizens to stay at home and limit leaving the house to once a day.

Sweden’s experts have taken a very different view to the UK’s, with their state epidemiologist, Anders Tengell, saying the Imperial College London modelling, predicting 250,000 deaths and informing Boris Johnson’s strategy, is “pessimistic”.

Sweden’s move has allowed for businesses to stay open, reducing the impact on the country’s economy. The approach has been broadly well received by the public, who view it as a more sensible course of action than the draconian steps taken in other countries.

Only time will tell what the best response to this year’s outbreak turns out to be, but for the moment Sweden’s more laissez-faire approach should be heartening to its population.

The government entrusting its citizens to observe advice and adjust their behaviors accordingly without the threat of police intervention is something that should be applauded in a free society.

If the pandemic turns out not to be as fatal as, for example, Britain’s experts initially feared, then the draconian measures enforced by other countries could result in the cure being worse than the disease.

However, if it does turn out to be as deadly as predicted, but no more so in Sweden than in other countries, the government could still not be accused of having done nothing but would still be in a more economically stable condition.

The only situation that would leave the Swedish government truly open to criticism would be if the mortality rate in Sweden outstrips similar countries, but thus far there seems little indication that that is likely to be the case.