Sweden in the pandemic

Submitted by martin on 16 April, 2020 - 4:24 Author: A reader in Sweden
Graph from World in Data

Swedish policy in the pandemic has been an outlier in two ways. Alone in Europe, it has not had a lockdown, only social distancing guidelines. And the policy has been explicitly set by the public health scientists.

The outcome is unclear: Sweden's cases and deaths show the same sort of graphs as other countries, worse than some, not as bad as others, and with similar doubts about the accuracy of the figures. Some scientists in Sweden are calling for policies there more like the UK's.

The Left Party is calling for "compensation to people in risk groups who cannot work from home", "increased support for homeless", stopping evictions and a state rental guarantee fund, etc., but not for a lockdown.

The science of it seems to depend on the idea that asymptomatic people have a much lower risk of spreading disease. I have a suspicion that the decision wasn't entirely from a scientific perspective.

The Swedish approach has been more orthodoxly centrist-neoliberal in the sense of putting the longer-term interests of capitalism first and not being overly authoritarian. It looks to me as if the lockdown approach has been a more populistic knee-jerk reaction by governments who felt they had show “strong leadership”.

Scientifically, we still don't know. But the experience in Sweden will at the very least be useful for other countries, when they consider easing off lockdowns, to see what eased-off policies might work.

Sweden has the legislation in place to deal with people being off sick. You get 80% of usual pay. That's not union agreements with individual employers: it's a national policy. It used to be that you didn't get pay for the first day off, but the government has removed that restriction.

And there is an unemployment insurance scheme run by the unions and regulated by the government, under which you can claim around 80% of your wages for a year if you lose your jobs. It's been made easier to qualify for these payments, and the minimum and maximum amounts that can be claimed have been raised.

A social factor in Sweden which may make a difference to pandemic policies is a lot of one-person households - I think the highest proportion in the world - and comparatively few older people living in big households. Few young people live with their parents beyond 20 or 21, while in Italy the average age for leaving your parents' home is over 30. It's much easier to get decent rented accommodation than it is in the UK.

Then, generally, people don't go out as much as in other countries. People are more likely to socialise from home. People don't kiss and hug each other as much as they do in other countries.

The norms as regards taking time off sick are different. In Sweden, if you have even a sniffle, you're expected to stay at home. Whereas I remember when I worked for Royal Mail in Britain, the sickness policy was extremely punitive.

How significant those factors are, I don't know.

In the Swedish model, businesses pay a lot of tax compared to most EU countries, and it's used to fund sick pay and parental leave. There is a consensus, shared by the unions and the majority of the population, that in times of crisis you pull together, and people have to take responsibility.

The Left Party isn't stepping outside the general idea that it's in everyone's interest to keep the economy working. So there's a widespread view that if the public health authorities tell us that this is the advice, then we should cooperate.

Boris Johnson and Trump have not had a consistent policy. In Sweden, the line is: this is what our scientists are saying, and we can increase the level of shutdown if we need to.

There has been a growth in trade-union membership in Sweden in the pandemic. Unions are demanding protective equipment for care workers, and virus contraction at work to be treated as a work-related injury (so entitling workers to claim lost income while off sick and compensation to families in the event of death).

It's not business as usual. More people are working from home, people go out less, unemployment is rising . Among people generally, there's some concern that Sweden is an outlier, but I think the general instinct is to follow the advice of the scientists.

Distance learning was introduced at an early stage in universities and the upper secondary schools. Most schools have stayed open, but are required to be ready to shift to distance learning fast. The teachers' union has had concerns about the demands placed for distance-teaching.

On the other hand, all the national tests have been cancelled, and that's a huge stress factor removed for both teachers and students.

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