Denmark and Sweden are neighbors but have taken very different measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
While the Danish Government has implemented a lock-down of the country by turning away people at the borders that have no essential need to enter Denmark, closed schools and public offices and urged private companies to work from home, too, the Swedish Health Authority still keep most of these tools in the tool bag.
The main difference is that while the decision in Denmark is taken by the politicians, Sweden has put the management of the situation in the hands of the Public Health Agency of Sweden.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has defended the decision to close the Danish borders against the advice of the Danish health authority. On Saturday, the National Board of Health emphasized that it was not due to a health professional decision that the borders in Denmark are closed to all foreigners who do not have a recognized purpose.
But Denmark has to act quickly, even if studies that support the initiative cannot be found, the prime minister pointed out.
“We are not in a situation where we as a government can allow ourselves to lean on evidence, because we are facing a new disease that is developing in a way that the authorities have not been able to foresee,” she said.
“If we have to wait for evidence-based knowledge in relation to corona, then we are simply too late.”
The borders to Denmark are provisionally closed for a month up to April 13, and citizens are advised not to travel abroad.
“It goes without saying that if we do not do anything about the travel pattern in and out of Denmark at the same time, we risk undermining the strategy chosen in Denmark,” says the prime minister.
The European Commission has called for Member States not to close their borders.
Neither the World Health Organization, the WHO, nor the National Board of Health can point to health professional evidence that it will mitigate the outbreak of coronavirus to close its borders.
But that doesn’t make the prime minister doubt the border closure.
“In the end, when making far-reaching decisions for a society, it is of course a political decision. I’d rather go a step too far than the opposite.
According to the Danish Prime Minister, the absence of other countries’ decisions should make the citizens of Denmark think.
While large parts of public and private Denmark have been shut down, Sweden has chosen a different strategy and abstained from equally drastic measures.
On Friday 13 March, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced the latest measures that Sweden is taking to fight the coronavirus. The Prime Minister urged for the first time Swedes not to travel abroad. Previously, Sweden has only formally advised against travel to Italy, Iran, China, and parts of South Korea and Austria as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but Löfven urged everyone to avoid non-essential international trips.
“I would like to urge those of you who are planning a trip abroad to consider whether it really needs to be done, even if the foreign ministry does not advise against it. The situation can change fast,” he said.
Another soft Swedish measures is, that Swedish employees may until further notice stay home if they feel not well without having to bring a medical certificate to their employer.
Löfven warned that further measures may be needed as the situation develops.
“There will be more decisions like that. We may as well get our minds set on it. This won’t pass in a week or a month, it may well have more long-lasting effects,” he told the press conference.
The Swedish media are aggressively asking why Sweden does not follow Denmark’s example. One explanation comes from Johan von Schreeb, an associate professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and head of Center for International Disaster Medicine.
“Sweden is expert-driven, while other countries are politically controlled,” he says.
He recognizes that many would like to see a stronger political leadership in Sweden, “as you see it in Denmark,” as Johan von Schreeb puts it.
“But such a model also puts pressure on the Prime Minister to do something new all the time. And in the end, all tools are put into use, and then you can’t do more, ‘he says.
Johan von Schreeb himself has confidence in the Swedish Public Health Authority’s assessments. But whether the Danish or Swedish approach makes the most sense in the current situation, he dares not comment. Only time – and death figures – can determine that.
“It will be interesting to look back at what was right. We will learn a lot,” he says.