May 15, 2020 / 12:07 PM / 2 months ago

Sweden's not soft on virus, says PM, in dig at foreign media

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Impressions conveyed abroad that Sweden has adopted a “business as usual” approach to the coronavirus are wrong, its prime minister said on Friday, adding that strong cooperation between nations was key to combating the epidemic.

FILE PHOTO: Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks during a news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation, in Stockholm, Sweden April 16, 2020. TT News Agency/Ali Lorestani via REUTERS

Rather than declaring a full lockdown, Sweden has adopted a mix of legislation and recommendations in response to the virus that foreign newspapers and broadcasters have widely labelled a relatively soft policy.

Stefan Lofven said he rejected that narrative, “the image that Sweden is doing so totally different than other countries. That’s not the case.”

The Swedish model for managing society was built on trust between citizens - who had “a responsibility to do the right thing” - and lawmakers and other authorities, he told a briefing with foreign media.

“Life is not carrying on as normal in Sweden. It is not business as usual.”

The government has banned large gatherings, high schools and universities are closed and authorities recommend social distancing, protecting the elderly, working from home and staying at home if unwell.

Elementary schools however remain open, people have not been obliged to stay indoors and can meet in small groups, and stores have not been forced to close.

Sweden has registered more than 3,500 coronavirus-linked deaths - a toll far lower than many large EU countries but around five times higher than Denmark and more than ten times that of its other Nordic neighbours.

Some of Denmark’s politicians have expressed hesitation about re-opening its border to Sweden, pointing to the higher COVID-19 death toll.

Sweden, whose population is around twice that of other Nordic countries, has no plans currently to ease its coronavirus regime, Lofven said.

“This fight against COVID-19 is a marathon and the measures have therefore been chosen because we strongly believe they are viable for the long haul,” he said.

While there was “no one-size-fits-all response” to the pandemic, he said better cooperation was needed as countries started to ease lockdown curbs.

“Strong EU cooperation is key now to fighting the crisis, to handling the health issues and the economic consequences. The global response also needs to be stronger,” he said.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; editing by John Stonestreet

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