Stefan Löfven’s Heat Level: A chilly self-regulation pandemic regime

  • + Löfven’s using “Intelligent lockdown” to tackle the outbreak. 
  • + Sweden surpassed the limit of 4,000 deaths by COVID-19.
  • + Löfven has faced backlash from neighbouring countries. 
Source: Kristian Pohl

Why is Stefan Löfven’s heat level chilly? 

Answer: Due to his controversial measures to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Coronavirus is one of the biggest crises in modern political history and definitely has governments and institutions struggling to find an answer to. Nearly all countries around the world have chosen to take some restricting measures.  Sweden, on the other hand, has taken a very chilly decision of not imposing a lockdown. While most of the European Union’s countries have taken very severe measures of social distancing, Sweden’s Stefan Löfven has approved another approach for the Nordic country: the intelligent lockdown. This has brought a lot of polarised views in the international community.  

Sweden’s initial stance on the virus in February was that of fear as it stated that the virus was a danger to society. Yet, now, Stefan Löfven has authorized flimsy limitations. The intelligent lockdown lays down narrow tracing measures and businesses such as restaurants and bars alongside primary schools have remained open. Behind this decision is Johan Carson, Director-General of the Public Health Agency of Sweden who has stated that the country “cannot take draconian measures that have a limited impact on the epidemic but knock out the functions of society.”

But there are some exceptions to the intelligent lockdown. Secondary schools and museums have been closed, the scheduled sports and activities have been cancelled and gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.  Swedes above the age of 70 have been asked to stay at home as well. Löfven’s mindset is that if social distancing is maintained in public places, a total or partial lockdown would not be required. 

This self-regulating system is based on the creation of an atmosphere of trust where society is meant to take individual, trustworthy measures. This focuses on a two-way trust relationship between the population and the government. Löfven’s government, as seen in most of its public policies, argues that it is not the function of the State to exercise coercion, but rather relies on the decision-making capacity of citizens to make choices. It is true that Sweden has a long tradition of credence, where the government is constitutionally prohibited from interfering in the affairs of administrative authorities such as the public health agency. However, are these measures sufficient for a large-scale pandemic like the one the world is experiencing? What might change the heat of this decision? 

Who is changing Stefan Löfven’s temperature?

Answer: The increasing number of deaths and disapproval from the Nordic countries. 

Sweden’s relations among the other Nordic countries is what might change the temperature of this measure. The Nordic countries generally have a good relationship with each other with great mutual trust. But during the coronavirus crisis, Sweden has been identified as a risk factor. While the Nordic countries have been carefully observing each other since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the eyes have been especially on Sweden – the only country that does not have fiscal restrictions such as the closure of schools and businesses. Löfven’’s strategy against the coronavirus might have broken Nordic countries’ unity.

Regardless of Sweden’s solidarity measures, the figures do not appear to be as encouraging. In the initial phase of the pandemic, Sweden had fewer deaths per capita than the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and France, which implemented lockdowns. These measures were stricter than their Nordic counterparts – Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Yet, between May 12 and 22, Sweden had 6.25 deaths per million inhabitants per day on average. This is the highest figure in Europe and exceeds that of the United Kingdom, which had 5.75 deaths per million. The Swedish figure is drastically worse than those of Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

The increase in the numbers is what alerted other countries in the region. Norway, Denmark, and Finland have imposed national quarantines or declared health emergencies but Sweden has done neither. As of 18th of May 2020, Sweden had 30377 confirmed cases and 3698 deaths, a mortality rate of 8.2%, which is much higher compared to those of Norway and Finland. Norway had 8257 confirmed and only 233 deaths. Finland had 6380 confirmed cases and barely 300 deaths. 

This augmentation in the number of cases is most probably due to social contact as the virus had a chance to spread rapidly in a country with no lockdown system. The high incidence that COVID-19 still has among Swedish society compared to its neighbours is seen as a risk that could destabilize the situation in countries that have managed to control the virus. The situation has pushed Löfven to acknowledge some of his mistakes as he stated that the government “did not manage to protect the most vulnerable people, the most elderly, despite our (their) best intentions,” In the past few days, Sweden has persistently had the highest number of deaths per capita in Europe. This means four times more deaths than in Denmark, seven times more than in Finland, and eight more than in Norway.

What is driving Stefan Löfven? 

Answer: The fear of an economic shutdown. 

One of the major reasons that drove Stefan Löfven’s government to not take drastic measures is the economy. Saving the economy versus saving lives. This predicament has often been put on the table to refer to Sweden’s strategy in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Scandinavian country has become one of the hot spots of this pandemic and the centre of all eyes after having opted to keep society much more open than most countries.

All the indicators show that the Swedish economy does not escape the impact of the Coronavirus crisis either. A few weeks after the outbreak broke out, the government also had to modify its growth forecasts for this year, predicting a 4% drop in GDP. The official data foresees a drop of up to 10% of GDP and the doubling up of the unemployment rate to 13.5%

The European Commission suggests that the Swedish economy will lose 6.1% this year and the unemployment rate will rise to 10%. The Riksbank, the Swedish central bank, forecasts a decline in GDP of between 7% and 10%. Unpromising estimates for Sweden have been repeated in the forecasts of other international organizations and banks as well. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: A problem in the long run. 

Löfven rejects drastic orders that he considers too ineffective to justify the impact on society. He insists that his government’s plan is sustainable in the long term. Luckily for him, polls show that many Swedes continue to support the government’s stance to not enact a mandatory quarantine but to trust each citizen’s responsibility.

Meanwhile, the government has assured the citizens that its objective is to slow down the spread of the infection without saturating the hospitals. But will Löfven be able to defend his strategy against COVID-19?

What is more important for Sweden’s health system and the economy is its relation with its neighbouring countries. For example in Denmark, most parties are committed to relaxing entry restrictions with Germany and Norway, but not with Sweden, which has outraged politicians of the latter country; this has especially been observed in Malmö and the surrounding areas where relations with the metropolitan region of Copenhagen are very intense. The Öresund Strait Bridge can now only be crossed in the direction of Denmark for work. Denmark, Finland, and Norway do not want to open borders to Sweden. The other Nordic countries maintaining restrictions on Swedish citizens is what might change Löfven’s intelligent lockdown. 

Moreover, despite not having ordered the closure of businesses, companies have been affected by the international crisis. Taking into account that the Swedish economy is very open to the outside and that close to half of GDP comes from exports, large companies like Volvo were forced to keep factories idle for several weeks due to lack of supplies. Löfven’s management of the epidemic, according to the majority of the surveys, only increases COVID-19 cases.

Misiker Agulló Rodríguez

Research & Analysis Intern