Covid-19: WHO envoy praises Swedish ‘trust-based’ response

Dr David Nabarro describes lockdown as ‘a blunt instrument’ that harms livelihoods

One of the World Health Organisation’s six special envoys on Covid-19 has highlighted Sweden’s virus response as a model that other countries should be emulating in the long run.

Dr David Nabarro, speaking in a radio interview in New Zealand, said, “For all countries, the real approach we’ve got to aim for is through behaviour that’s adopted everywhere.”

Dr Nabarro said the key to a sustainable coronavirus strategy is trust, and pointed to Sweden as a case in point. The Nordic nation imposed far fewer restrictions on movement than others, and instead relied on Swedes to act responsibly and embrace the guidelines laid out by the country’s health authorities.

“In Sweden, the government was able to trust the public and the public was able to trust the government,” Dr Nabarro told Magic Talk.

Sweden’s Covid-19 death rate is considerably higher than in many other countries, at 57 per 100,000. But the pace of new infections and deaths has slowed markedly since the end of June. The development prompted Sweden’s national health agency to propose raising the limit on certain public gatherings to 500 people from 50.

In contrast, other governments around the world are once again imposing stricter measures amid a resurgence in cases.

Dr Nabarro described a lockdown as “a blunt instrument” that “really bites into the livelihoods of everybody, particularly poorer people and small businesses.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio on Monday, Dr Nabarro reiterated the WHO’s advice on masks, saying children aged between six and 11 years should wear a mask if there appeared to be a high risk of the virus in the community.

“It’s not a one size fits all instruction but it’s guidance based on the best available evidence,” he told Morning Ireland.

Dr Nabarro paid tribute to the people of Ireland their efforts to date with the advice “don’t give up, keep the fight up, keep all the elements that we’ve got in place so we can have a comprehensive response to this virus and let’s keep ahead of it because otherwise the virus will beat us and knock us down”.

In response to the envoy’s remarks on Sweden, the director-general of the Swedish public health agency, Johan Carlson, said in an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet: “We are one of the few countries with a limited spread of infection, unlike several countries in Europe where the infection is returning sharply.”

“I call it the champagne cork effect,” Mr Carlson said.

But Sweden’s Covid strategy still has many critics, including from within the country. Fredrik Elgh, a professor of virology at Umea University, points to the high death toll as evidence the light-touch approach has failed.

“We have almost 6,000 dead. We have betrayed our elderly,” he said in the Svenska Dagbladet report. “We should test and trace infection much more. But the Public Health Agency does not want that.”

Mr Carlson of the public health agency and Sweden’s minister for health and social affairs, Lena Hallengren, are due to hold a press conference on the country’s Covid strategy later on Monday. - Bloomberg