October 22, 2020 - 3:15pm

There has been much attention on the new local restrictions introduced in the town of Uppsala in Sweden, a university town that, like many universities in the UK, saw a surge in cases when term got going. It looked like a change of strategy.

A closer look at the Health Agency’s advice reveals that, for a period of two weeks, the people of Uppsala are recommended to (1) avoid travelling by public transport (2) avoid going to parties and social gatherings and (3) avoid having physical contact with people other than those you live with, as much possible.

So, a tightening in Swedish terms but not exactly a local lockdown.

At the same time, the Swedish authorities have removed the special advice nationwide given to older people, so now all age groups have the same advice.

“It is not reasonable that risk groups should have to bear such a heavy burden for society in the long run, especially when we can see that the mental and physical consequences are significant for those who have been isolated,” said Johan Carlson, head of the public health agency.

“We can see that many lack social contact, they feel frustrated that they are treated differently in a stigmatising way. Anxiety has increased among those who suffer from poor mental health.”

However, Mr Carlson emphasised that there is still a much greater risk of suffering from serious illness if you are older. “Therefore you must make your own assessment of what risk you are prepared to expose yourself to,” he says.

What is interesting is that this apparent liberalisation of the rules is based on the opposite principle to the authors of the ‘Great Barrington Declaration’, who are arguing for shielding of the elderly only. It comes out of an egalitarian ethic, emphasising how everyone in society must be involved together. Here’s the Minister of Social Affairs Lena Hallengren:

“Basically, this means that everyone in Sweden has the same responsibility to protect themselves and others. This means that it becomes even more crucial for each of us to follow the advice that the government and others are calling for.”

It’s the latest example of the complexity of this debate: the Swedes are drawing on the principles of both sides of the argument as framed in the UK and US.