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Swedish king criticizes light-touch COVID response

December 17, 2020

As Sweden logs a record number of new coronavirus infections, King Carl Gustaf has said the high death toll among the elderly has been a "traumatic experience" for the country.

A shopping street in Stockholm, pictured on October 30, 2020
Stores and restaurants remain open in Sweden, despite a second wave of coronavirus casesImage: Amir Nabizadeh/TT News Agency/REUTERS

Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf criticized Sweden's policy to combat the coronavirus pandemic in his Christmas address, as the Nordic country added a record 8,881 new cases in a single day on Thursday.

"I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died and that is terrible. It is something we all suffer with,'' Gustaf said in an excerpt of a pre-recorded Christmas address which will air in full on December 21.

Sweden's coronavirus strategy has been the subject of international debate, as authorities decided not to mandate lockdowns, rather advising citizens to make responsible decisions to contain the virus's spread.

The loose policy, which depended on a sense of "civic duty," meant Swedes enjoyed relative normalcy during the first wave of the pandemic, as the rest of Europe closed shops, restaurant and schools.

Sweden's high COVID death rate

However, the county's rising coronavirus death toll, especially among elderly nursing home residents, is drawing increasing criticism. 

Overall, Sweden has one of the highest per capita coronavirus death rates in Europe, despite a comparatively low population density. 

Carl Gustaf's Christmas address in 2019
The Swedish king has a ceremonial role, and has spoken multiple times during the pandemicImage: Fredrik Sanberg/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, an independent commission in Sweden published a report that outlined major systemic shortcomings in elderly care and alleged that inadequate government measures contributed to a high death toll among Sweden's elderly. It found that of the more than 7,000 coronavirus deaths in Sweden, "almost 90%" were aged 70 or older, and "half of them were living in a long-term residential care facitlity." 

A 'traumatic experience'

"You think of all the family members who have not been able to say goodbye to their deceased family members,'' Gustaf said.

"I think it is a heavy and traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye," he added.

"The Swedish people have suffered enormously in difficult conditions,'' the monarch continued. "Lately, it has felt more obvious."

In response to the current surge in cases this month, Sweden has imposed some of its tightest restrictions to date, including a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. in bars and restaurants and banning public gatherings of more than eight people.

However, despite the rising cases and deaths, authorities in Sweden have not announced any proposals for a general lockdown. Nearly 350,000 coronavirus cases in total have been reported in Sweden. That equates to more than 3% of the population of roughly 10.2 million.

wmr/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)