Cardinal condemns Sweden’s relaxed pandemic approach

Sweden’s pandemic approach and the risk it poses to the vulnerable is worrying, says Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm.

Unlike most countries, Sweden has chosen a more relaxed approach to preventing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In an open letter to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, Arborelius and other Christian leaders have asked the government to protect migrants and the homeless who are most at risk of being infected or are suffering due to the economic fallout.

“We can say that we try to do what we can, but we also see there are needs. Many of the undocumented immigrants are also Catholic and they have lost work, they have lost housing,” he says.

While migrants and homeless people are among the most at risk of getting COVID-19, elderly men and women living in retirement homes have suffered a high death rate.

So high, questions are being asked of the government as as to whether measures meant to protect the most vulnerable have worked.

“Not being an expert, it’s difficult to judge, but I would say that many people here in Sweden are very worried and, also, the authorities have recognized that we have not been able to give elderly people the protection they needed,” Arborelius says.

These measures include Swedish authorities asking for people to work remotely and restricting gatherings of more than 50 people since the start of the crisis.

At the same time, schools for under 16-year olds remained open, while restaurants and bars also remained open.

Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist, says cases in Stockholm, the epicenter of the outbreak, have peaked. Furthermore, the number of people hospitalised “is clearly falling”.

By 8 May, about 3,040 people had died from COVID-19 in Sweden, while in Denmark 514 people died and Norway has reported 217 deaths. In Finland, 255 people have died.

According to a study by John Hopkins University, the death rate in Sweden is currently at 28.88 for every 100,000 people. As a comparison, in the US, which has the most number of cases worldwide, the death rate is 22.44.

Statistics released on 6 May from Sweden’s National Health and Social Affair’s office show 90 percent of Covid-19 victims were 70 years and older. Of these, half were living in government-run retirement homes.

“If you come to Stockholm, you see more people in the street than in other parts of Europe,” Arborelius says.

But because of the high mortality rate, “there is a discussion going on here in Sweden: Is this really a good thing to do?”

Arborelius says the approach taken by the Diocese of Stockholm has been “a bit more strict”.

The Catholic Church chose to close catechism classes for children and young adults.

Some churches began to open gradually after Easter while observing the government’s regulation limiting gatherings of more than 50 people. However, others are continuing to livestream Masses for the elderly and the sick, he says.


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