Swedish failings left elderly to die during first wave of COVID, damning report says

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·3-min read
An information sign wishing Merry Christmas and asking to maintain social distancing is seen in a pedestrian shopping street in Helsingborg, southern Sweden, on December 7, 2020. - The last week in November, Helsingborg had more new confirmed Covid-19 cases than in any other city in Sweden. (Photo by Johan NILSSON / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden OUT (Photo by JOHAN NILSSON/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)
Sweden failed to protect its care home residents, a commission has said. (AFP via Getty Images)

Sweden’s pandemic strategy failed to protect the country’s elderly care residents, who have died in their thousands from coronavirus, an official commission there has said.

Shortcomings in the nation’s elderly care system combined with inadequate steps taken by the government and agencies contributed towards the high death toll in nursing homes, it found, according to Reuters.

The country has been praised by some in the UK for its perceived laxer approach to managing its coronavirus outbreak, and has seen lower deaths per capita than some countries in Europe that locked down.

It avoided lockdowns and mostly allowed businesses and schools to stay open, while the government promoted social distancing.

Watch: Sweden’s lack of lockdown

However, critics have pointed out that is 7,600 deaths – as reported by Johns Hopkins University in the US – are far higher than neighbouring Norway’s 390, or Denmark’s 960.

Just under half of Sweden’s death toll were care home residents.

The commission, which was set up in spring, said existing structural issues in Sweden’s care system contributed to the high amount of deaths, despite an attempt to ring-fence the elderly off.

Older people are at significantly more risk of dying from COVID-19 than the rest of the population.

Read more: Sweden nears all-time high of COVID-19 cases in hospital

“But we want to say that it is the government that rules the country and has the ultimate responsibility,” Mats Melin, the commission’s chairman, said.

“The aspect of (the coronavirus strategy) which centered on protecting the elderly failed,” he added.

“There is no other way to view the fact that so many died in COVID-19.

“The government should have taken steps to ensure the elderly care was better prepared for the pandemic.”

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven gives a press conference on the new restrictions to curb the spread of the corona (Covid-19) pandemic, in Stockholm on November 11, 2020. - The Swedish government proposes an alcohol sale stop after 10 pm from November 20 until the end of February 2021. (Photo by Henrik MONTGOMERY / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden OUT (Photo by HENRIK MONTGOMERY/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)
Prime minister Stefan Lofven defended the country's pandemic strategy. (AFP via Getty Images)

Poorly-educated staff and low levels of nursing were part of the problem, as were various authorities, private care groups and past governments, the commission said.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven admitted the country failed to protect old people but defended the strategy.

He added that regional authorities take responsibility for elderly care.

The report comes as hospitals in Stockholm asked for more nurses as they try to cope with the country’s second wave, which has caused intensive care wards in the capital fill out.

The region is among the worst-affected areas, with more than 2,800 deaths, and infections on the rise after a quieter summer and autumn.

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In November, the government cut the maximum size of public gatherings to eight, having once permitted up to 300 for some events.

Lofven said the public was not abiding by coronavirus recommendations as well as it did in spring.

Sweden has recorded more than 340,000 cases.

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