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Is Sweden an oasis of freedom in a desert of COVID restrictions? | DW NewsMost European countries have been relying on lockdowns, masks and travel bans to keep coronavirus cases down. But Sweden has taken a different path, as its top epidemiologist doesn't agree with lockdowns. That's turned the country into an oasis of freedom. Health authorities are urging people to remain vigilant – but will they listen?
Sweden has been experiencing some of the highest, if not the highest, numbers of new coronavirus infections in Europe. At the same time, it has perhaps the fewest binding regulations on public behavior. Teri Schultz visited Stockholm to find out the calculus of the man in charge of making the rules.
In Sweden, unlike many other EU countries, the national health authorities and not the government make the rules.
The country is seen as the land of sweet liberty for those chafing against coronavirus closures, curfews and mandatory masks.
While most of Europe has been in various stages of lockdown over the last year, Swedes have been skiing, shopping, dining and drinking.
"Restrictions" in Swedish restaurants mean giving customers space and closing at 8 pm.
The architect of this model is state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.
But Tegnell's "different way" has seen Sweden record a far higher death toll than its closest neighbors, Finland and Norway, a comparison he rejects.
But Sweden's care homes in particular were hit hard last year and still now, hospitals warn intensive care units are nearly overwhelmed.
In December even the king said he thought the strategy had failed. But Tegnell stands by his recommendations. He says the only problem with them is that people don't follow them.
Take masks, for example. Tegnell doesn't believe they're very effective, so on public transportation, passengers are urged but not required to mask up during rush hours. Few appear to do so.
Some feel that's a failure of the government's COVID-19 communications strategy, at least.
Journalism professor Christian Christiansen says the lax approach to mask-wearing exposes inequalities in Swedish society, endangering especially minorities.
A new emergency law gives the government temporary power to impose a lockdown but it hasn't been used.
While polls show some Swedes have lost faith in their country's approach, Gustav Lloyd Agerblad isn't one of them. He still trusts in Anders Tegnell.
Agerblad's support isn't likely to fade quickly. Last year,he immortalized the epidemiologist on his epidermis.
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