Sweden’s king says ‘we have failed’ over Covid-19, as deaths mount

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Sweden’s king said his country had failed in its handling of Covid-19, in a sharp criticism of a pandemic policy partly blamed for a high death toll among the elderly.

(file) Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf poses for a photo before recording his annual Christmas Day speech to the nation, at Stockholm Castle, Sweden, on December 16, 2019.

King Carl XVI Gustaf pictured in 2019.
Photo: AFP

King Carl XVI Gustaf, whose son and daughter-in-law tested positive last month, used an annual royal Christmas TV special to highlight the growing impact of the virus, in a rare intervention from a monarch whose duties are largely ceremonial.

Sweden has stood out from most countries by shunning lockdowns and face masks, leaving schools, restaurants and businesses largely open and relying mainly on voluntary social distancing and hygiene recommendations to slow the spread.

An official commission said on Tuesday systemic shortcomings in elderly care coupled with inadequate measures from the government and agencies contributed to Sweden’s particularly high death toll in nursing homes.

“I believe we have failed,” the king said in an excerpt from the programme broadcast by SVT on Wednesday.

“We have had a large number of deaths and that is terrible. That is something that brings us all suffering.”

Sweden has registered more than 7800 deaths, a much higher per capita rate than its Nordic neighbours but lower than in Britain, Italy, Spain or France, which have all opted for lockdowns.

The 74-year-old king has no formal political power and rarely comments on current and political issues, though he has addressed the nation to offer encouragement during the outbreak.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he agreed with the king’s remarks.

“Of course the fact that so many have died can’t be considered as anything other than a failure,” Mr Lofven told reporters.

Referring to the government’s strategy, Mr Lofven added that “it’s when we are through the pandemic that the real conclusions can be drawn”.

In the spring, the government’s response to the pandemic was widely supported by Swedes who carried on much as normal while most of Europe entered lockdown.

But the rising death toll – particularly among elderly residents of care homes – has drawn increasing criticism.

A poll in daily Dagens Nyheter on Thursday showed around a third of Swedes expressed a high level of confidence in authorities’ handling of the pandemic, down from 42 percent in March and a peak of 56 percent after the summer lull in infections.

Sweden registered a record 8,881 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, Health Agency statistics showed. The increase compared with a previous high of 7,935 daily cases recorded last week. The country registered 91 new deaths, taking the total to 7,893.

Earlier this week, schools across the Stockholm region were asked to switch to distance learning for 13 to 15-year-olds for the first time as soon as possible. The measure was announced in response to rising Covid-19 cases. This came a week after a nationwide decision on 7 December to switch to remote learning for those over 16.

And on Monday, new nationwide social-distancing recommendations for the Christmas period came into force, replacing similar region-specific guidelines.

Swedes are advised to meet a maximum of eight people, gather outdoors if possible and avoid travelling by train or bus.

A formal ban on public gatherings of more than eight people remains, affecting events such as concerts, sports matches and demonstrations.

– Reuters / BBC

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