Sweden starts critical look at its pandemic response

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden on Tuesday announced a commission to evaluate its response to the novel coronavirus, reacting to criticism over a death toll that has far exceeded that of its neighbours.

FILE PHOTO: A sign assures people that the bar is open during the coronavirus outbreak, outside a pub in Stockholm, Sweden March 26, 2020. Picture taken March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Colm Fulton

More than 5,300 Swedes have died compared to around 250 in Norway, 600 in Denmark and 325 in Finland, all of which have populations around half the size.

Sweden, unlike the rest of Scandinavia, chose not to close schools and businesses to fight the spread of the virus.

“It is not a question of whether Sweden is going to change as a result of this - the question is how,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference.

The commission has a broad mandate to look at how the virus arrived in Sweden, how it spread, the government’s and other authorities’ response, and the effect on equality.

Sweden’s response to the virus outbreak, which has relied mainly on voluntary measures and common sense hygiene rules, has led to its being snubbed by its neighbours and other countries in Europe that have kept their borders shut to Swedish tourists.

Its toll is still lower than in some European countries, such as Britain, which has one of the worst death rates in the world.

Criticism in Sweden has focused mainly on the death toll among elderly residents of care homes, who make up the majority of deaths from the virus, and the late start to widespread testing.

The head of the Public Health Agency says Sweden followed established practice.

Anders Tegnell, who has become the face of Sweden’s virus strategy, told Reuters it remained unclear whether total lockdowns were effective.

The commission will report on elderly care at the end of November, although its final conclusions are not due until 2022, ahead of a national election.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Barbara Lewis