Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Sweden failed to protect elderly from COVID, parliament panel says

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A general view of the Riksdag, Sweden's Parliament, in Stockholm, Sweden, May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

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STOCKHOLM, June 3 (Reuters) - Sweden's centre-left minority government, which neverordered a COVID-19 lockdown and relied instead mostly on voluntary curbs, failed in several aspects of its handling of the pandemic, parliament's constitutional committee said on Thursday.

The government was slow to put in place a testing and tracing system, failed to protect of the elderly and there was a lack of clear lines of responsibility between national and local authorities, the committee said.

It did not comment on Sweden's controversial no-lockdown strategy.

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The issue of responsibility for contentious aspects of the pandemic response has taken on growing significance as the country heads toward general elections in September next year.

"It is ... clear that Sweden was not sufficiently prepared before (the pandemic) and we can learn from many of the underlying failures that have been identified," Hans Ekstrom, deputy chairman of the committee and a Social Democrat lawmaker, told a hearing.

Sweden has been an outlier in the fight against the pandemic by opting against lockdowns. The death toll has been higher than those among its Nordic neighbours, but lower than in most European countries that went into lockdown.

The committee said that the government should have been quicker to set up a framework for testing and tracing, quicker to draw up a law giving it wider powers to deal with the crisis and quicker to isolate care homes for the elderly.

"The government's response was not sufficient," committee chairperson Karin Enstrom, of the opposition Moderate Party, said.

Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told news agency TT that while some issues might have been handled better, the committee had not leveled serious constitutional criticism.

"But there are descriptions of things that could have been handled differently, and where one could have found clarity faster," she said.

The Social Democrat-led government has already accepted that it did not do enough to protect elderly residents of care homes.

Sweden has registered 8,520 new coronavirus cases since May 27 as a steep decline in cases continues. The figures have not been updated since Wednesday last week, when the Health Agency shut its database temporarily due to a suspected attempt to breach the system.

The agency said it had found no indication data had leaked and that it had bolstered security.

As of May 26, just over z million Swedes have been confirmed as having had COVID-19 and around 14,500 have died.

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Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard

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