by UnHerd
Thursday, 22
October 2020
Spotted
15:15

Why Sweden is no longer shielding the elderly

The change stems from an egalitarian ethic
by UnHerd
People play chess at a park in Stockholm. Credit: Getty

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.

Join the discussion


  • “Therefore you must make your own assessment of what risk you are prepared to expose yourself to,” he says.
    Well, yes. That’s how it should always be. Outsourcing risk to a third party with no stake in the outcome isn’t a strategy. There have been a few stories that have trickled out re: people who died because they were effectively denied medical care when Covid became the only condition that mattered. I suspect we’ll soon hear stories of seniors who isolated, despondent, cut off from friends, relatives, and normal human contact due to frantic people demanding that govt “do something.”

  • So, older person makes their own assessment, takes the risk, catches Covid and ends up in an ITU bed that results in someone else dying from something else because the bed was not available.

    That could equally apply to an old person who has a weak heart but decides to go for a walk anyway. The old person then suffers a heart attack and has to go into hospital for urgent treatment.

    Old people face greater risk from numerous health factors. By your logic, that old person acted irresponsibly and should have stayed at home. Is that right?

  • it’s amazing how people instantly resort to the saddest, worst-case imaginable scenario in trying to put words in the mouths of others. The older person could end up in the same bed without making his/her own assessment, by following all the dictates but contracting the virus anyway.

    As it is, NO ONE has died of covid for lack of a bed, at least not in the States. The same cannot be said of other conditions, where people were effectively denied treatment because nothing mattered but this virus.

  • To get involved in the discussion and stay up to date, become a registered user.

    It's simple, quick and free.

    Sign me up