The Swedish Experiment
The COVID-19 Response and its Controversies

TWO: The First Wave


This chapter reviews the initial phases of the Swedish response to the epidemic emergency. The ‘slow’ and ‘delayed’ response Sweden was criticized for is accounted for in all its complexity. It is important to try to explain why Sweden deviated so much from the rest of Europe, in comparison with its direct neighbours, but also by contrast to its own history of handling epidemic crises. This response met with a lot of astonishment, especially in light of the fact that Sweden has one of the lowest hospital bed capacity in the OECD and could have been expected to react very differently. While the role of FHM, the Public Health Agency, and of its chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, corresponded to a traditional form of administrative independence and heeding of expertise, it went much further than what is generally expected, and other factors must be taken into account to make sense of their unprecedented influence. The lack of certain legal instruments is also important in this regard. The most controversial debate around ‘herd immunity’ and whether Sweden strived to achieve and even more or less openly promoted are some of the issues discussed in this chapter.

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