STOCKHOLM — The Swedish governments decision to go its own way on coronavirus just got political.
In the first party leaders debate in parliament since the pandemic began, opposition politicians went after Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on Wednesday, saying Swedens spiking death rate from COVID-19 and inability to protect residents of elderly care homes represented serious failures.
“I said today the same thing I have been saying: Testing is moving too slowly and the government hasnt got control of the situation,” Ulf Kristersson, leader of the center-right Moderates, the largest opposition party in parliament, told POLITICO as he left the chamber.
Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats, said the government had been too slow to react to the crisis and when it did, it made serious errors.
“Misjudgements were made early on about how dangerous the virus was,” he told POLITICO. “The virus was allowed to spread.”
The flare-up underscored how opposition lawmakers have quickly shifted from “rallying round the flag” to distancing themselves from the governments crisis response as the death rate from COVID-19 has spiked and voters have begun to lose faith in Swedens unique no-lockdown approach.
“The government should replace the general director of the Public Health Agency who can then appoint another state epidemiologist.” — Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats
A survey by pollster Novus for the public service broadcaster SVT published late last week showed the share of respondents with “very or quite high confidence” in the governments ability to handle the coronavirus plummeted to 45 percent in June from 63 percent in April.
At the same time, criticism of state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and the Public Health Agency he represents has intensified as failures, particularly the spread of the coronavirus in elderly care homes, have become more apparent.
Tegnell has acknowledged that more should have been done to protect the elderly, but told POLITICO last week that he still felt Swedens lighter-touch approach — it has left schools and businesses open throughout the pandemic — was right.
Wednesdays debate in parliament underscored how lawmakers have now joined critics in the scientific community who have long said Tegnells strategy of allowing the virus to spread slowly through society would lead to unnecessary deaths.
“The government should replace the general director of the Public Health Agency who can then appoint another state epidemiologist,” Åkesson of the Sweden Democrats said.
The sharper tone in Sweden, where parliamentary debates are normally fairly sedate affairs, reflects a broader European picture as governments are now being held to account by political opponents for decisions made in the heat of the pandemic.
Whether opposition lawmakers can sustain potentially damaging blows to their nations governments over coronavirus will depend on diverse streams of data — showing everything from death rates to impact on mental health to school results and economic output — which experts expect to be used to assess countries varying strategies over the months and years ahead.
For the moment, Swedish leaders are on the back foot.
The countrys death rate per million from COVID-19 remains below Europes worst-affected nations, such as the U.K. and Spain, but is now 10 times that of neighboring Norway and eight times that of Finland.
At the same time, surveys have suggested fewer Swedes have developed immunity to the dRead More – Source