Long a Holdout From Covid-19 Restrictions, Sweden Ends Its Pandemic Experiment

Wall Street Journal:

Sweden’s Covid-19 experiment is over.

After a late autumn surge in infections led to rising hospitalizations and deaths, the government has abandoned its attempt—unique among Western nations—to combat the pandemic through voluntary measures.

Like other Europeans, Swedes are now heading into the winter facing restrictions ranging from a ban on large gatherings to curbs on alcohol sales and school closures—all aimed at preventing the country’s health system from being swamped by patients and capping what is already among the highest per capita death tolls in the world.

The clampdown, which started last month, put an end to a hands-off approach that had made the Scandinavian nation a prime example in the often heated global debate between opponents and champions of pandemic lockdowns.

Admirers of the Swedish way as far as the U.S. hailed its benefit to the economy and its respect for fundamental freedoms. Critics called it a gamble with human lives, especially those of the most vulnerable. With its shift in strategy, the government is now siding with those advocating at least some mandatory restrictions.

When the pathogen swept across Europe in March, Sweden broke with much of the continent and opted not to impose mask-wearing and left known avenues of viral transmission such as bars and nightclubs open, leaving it to citizens to take their own precautions.

As late as last month, Swedes enjoyed mass sporting and cultural events and health-care officials insisted that the voluntary measures were enough to spare the country the resurgence in infections that was sweeping Europe.

Weeks later, with total Covid-19-related deaths reaching almost 700 per million inhabitants, infections growing exponentially and hospital wards filling up, the government made a U-turn.

In an emotional televised address on Nov. 22, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven pleaded with Swedes to cancel all nonessential meetings and announced a ban on gatherings of more than eight people, which triggered the closure of cinemas and other entertainment venues. Starting Monday, high schools will be closed.

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