Sweden is on the verge of a real health and humanitarian catastrophe with the new coronavirus pandemic. With almost 15,000 infected and about 1600 dead, the country is preparing to become one of the biggest affected by the virus in a few weeks. However, unlike most nations, Sweden does not adopt quarantine and social isolation measures as public policies of compulsory and coercive nature, which has further facilitated the spread of the infection.
Recently, a group of 22 Swedish scientists wrote an open letter formally calling for “swift and radical action” by the country’s government to begin containing the further spread of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Previously, a group of more than 2,300 local researchers asked for the same. The 22 scientists call on the government to immediately close schools and restaurants, conduct mass tests of health workers and force quarantines between families with a confirmed infection.
However, the government of Sweden opted, in an absolutely opposite sense, to place its faith in social detachment and voluntary self-isolation of the population. The architect of the government’s strategy, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, publicly disapproved of the letter’s claims. These are his words: “I don’t understand what they mean. The health care system has always been under control. If you look at the curve, we have consistently had about 60 deaths a day. We have had an unfortunate development in caring for the elderly and we started working hard on that”. Tegnell also pointed to the well-known flaws in the policy of social isolation in New York, which has ten times the death toll from Sweden, despite having a similar population to the country. According to the epidemiologist, the difference in counts of deaths by countries tend to be very confusing, choosing to protect the Swedish economy instead of taking hasty measures.
When looking at the crisis in the country since a deep analytical point, we may come to the conclusion that Anders Tegnell is not correct in claiming that there is a strategic planning behind the absence of social isolation in Sweden. If there is such a strategy, its influence on government’s decision-making is minimal, since the predominant factor is another: the ideology of the Swedish State. Sweden is one of the European countries most committed to the liberal, democratic and western values that currently guide Europe, being one of the most permissive countries in relation to the axiological liberal agenda, which includes at its core the identity claims of the new lefts, the so-called “identity causes”, which constitute individualist agendas almost always added to liberal and anti-state economic proposals.
The supreme values of Swedish ideology are individual freedoms and, for this reason, the government cannot even consider reducing them, even if this decision depends on the survival of its own population. This is the Swedish bet: the belief that individuals will sovereignly decide what is best for them and for others and that this will be enough to prevent further damage to the country’s stability during the global pandemic. Apparently, neither the negative experience of all the countries that took too long to adopt social isolation nor the increase in deaths among the population itself can alter this immutable decision of the government, which silently watches the escalation of the infection in the name of individual freedoms and liberalism.
This is yet another chapter in the axiological war fought in the midst of the new coronavirus pandemic: the less Western (liberal), the stronger States are against this invisible enemy; the more western, the weaker and more vulnerable they are. In order to combat the disease, it is essential that all western states become increasingly less western, as European democracies are already doing, as well as the USA itself – epicenter of western ideology and, not coincidentally, of the pandemic. Sweden considers the need for these measures and their strong strategic value, but does not make the slightest effort to implement them as it considers that they would mean the death of the Swedish democracy.
Fortunately, the government’s decision is not approved by all sectors of the society, with strong disapproval among the most specialists and among the people themselves. Joacim Rocklöv, professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Umea in northeastern Sweden, says he believes the government’s strategy “is not prudent”. These are his words: “I think we should learn from the experience of other countries, but we have not learned any lessons from what is happening in Italy and Spain. We must learn from them, be more rigorous in the implementation (of measures) and ensure that this does not turn into a public health catastrophe “. The specialist also warns of the most worrying fact: the virus has a long waiting period until it manifests itself in symptoms, so it is very likely that a large part of the country’s population is already infected asymptomatically, transmitting it to others due to the absence of isolation, and that the results will appear only weeks later.
Finally, it remains to be seen which of the voices will be heard by the government: that of specialists committed to the well-being of the population or that of fanatical defenders of ethereal values. Perhaps the Swedish government will only find out too late that diminishing some freedoms could be vital to the survival of democracy itself in times of crisis.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.