Swedish monarch suggests state’s Covid-19 strategy a failure

‘A large number have died ... it is a traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye’

Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden. The king said Swedes had ‘suffered tremendously in difficult conditions’. File photograph: EPA

King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has suggested his country’s outlier coronavirus strategy has “failed” its citizens.

As neighbouring Denmark announced a Christmas lockdown, the Swedish monarch’s unusually blunt remarks come as his country’s death toll leapt by 1,700 in the last month.

“I think we have failed. A large number have died and that is terrible,” said the 74-year-old monarch in an excerpt from this year’s annual SVT public television broadcast to be aired on December 21st.

Looking back at a “terrible year”, the king said Swedes had “suffered tremendously in difficult conditions”.


“One thinks of all the families who have been unable to say goodbye to deceased family members,” the king added. “It is a tough and traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye.”

Sweden’s light-touch strategy avoided lockdowns and made all restrictions voluntary but, with nearly 7,900 deaths to date, its Covid-19 fatality rate is running at eight times that of Denmark, 16 times that of Finland and nearly 20 times that of Norway – despite having roughly only double the population of those countries.

The gap has widened since Sweden’s second wave proved far worse than its experts promised, shattering hopes of a reprieve thanks to the “herd immunity” strategy.

Sweden’s public health chief Anders Tegnell, chief proponent of that strategy and backer of light-touch regulation, has seen his public support slip six points to 59 per cent.

Mr Tegnell insisted it was premature to speak of failure, but conceded the scale of the second wave had surprised him – and others. “More or less all countries are struggling with this,” said Mr Tegnell, who has questioned the efficacy of wearing face masks in public.

High death toll

The Swedish public health system was at “breaking point”, he admitted, while the departure of staff burned out by long hours and relatively low pay, he said, had caused “great, great pressure”.

This week Sweden’s intensive care capacity was running at 99 per cent while a survey showed that, in 13 of Sweden’s 21 regions, healthcare resignations were all up from a year ago, at up to 500 a month.

This week an official commission linked Sweden’s relatively high death toll to inadequacies in government agencies responsible for elderly care.

Mindful of that report, critical public opinion and, now, the outspoken monarch, Sweden’s government has begun to take a firmer line with its health officials.

Prime minister Stefan Löfven has asked citizens to avoid crowded public transport and shopping centres, and to limit Christmas gatherings to no more than eight people.

“This year Christmas will not be as usual,” he said. “This year we will not be able to celebrate with all the people we want to celebrate with.”

Denmark is to enter a hard lockdown from December 25th, with non-essential retail closing already on Thursday. With all Danish regions now on the second-highest alert level, prime minister Mette Frederiksen said a runaway epidemic would have “greater consequences than closing down now would have”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin