By Lauren Ng and Alana Meier
COVID-19 Update – The jury is out on Sweden’s approach
“You’re pushing your cases and deaths into the future – they are not disappearing.” While lockdown measures have been implemented throughout the globe, Sweden has taken a different approach to the coronavirus. Similarly to the UK’s initial strategy, the Nordic country refrained from employing a nation-wide lockdown and alternatively, opted to pursue the public health measure of herd immunity and social distancing.
Herd immunity is a form of protection which is achieved when the majority of a population becomes immune to a virus, either through a vaccine or exposure to the infection; thus, preventing further spread to the non-infected members of a group and stopping its lethality. Part of Sweden’s model involves similar strategies to that of many countries, including banning gatherings with more than 50 people, advising citizens to social distance, closing educational institutions for individuals over-16 and isolating the vulnerable, for example prohibiting visits to nursing homes. Yet, schools for children under 16 remain open, along with shops, factories and restaurants.
Sweden has pursued this policy on grounds that “draconian measures” were viewed as unsustainable for its economy, whereas voluntary restrictions would encourage compliance for a longer period and allow its citizens to preserve their right to liberty, preventing further stress on the safety and wellbeing of its population. While measures promoting the protection of the economy could be argued as a violation of the right to health, Swedish leaders have urged countries to consider the wider implications of their policies using a “life versus life” approach – where the economy, security and social unrest are considered as much as part of the consequences to that of physical health. However, more recently, analysts have predicted that Sweden is unlikely to emerge unscathed by the crisis, and is expected to find itself in a similar situation to that of most countries near the end of the pandemic, although its economy is currently less affected.
Furthermore, Sweden’s death rates per million are higher compared to its neighbours. Still, their figures are notably lower than other countries where strict lockdowns have been enforced, for instance the UK and Italy. Additionally, the deaths in Sweden have predominantly been attributed to the government’s delayed response in restricting care home visits, which accounted for a large proportion of its mortality rates. Compared to its counterparts who currently sit at lower levels of immunity, such as France (4.4%) or the UK (5%), it is expected that Sweden will reach herd immunity by June.
Nevertheless, to achieve herd immunity, experts predict that at least 50% to 70% of the population would need to be exposed to the virus. In countries with greater populations, the feasibility and moral dent of this strategy is less guaranteed, with opponents arguing that the healthcare system would rapidly be overburdened and at a significantly higher cost to the health of its citizens. In addition, it is uncertain to what extent our immunity to coronavirus lasts. Moreover, as with any population, Sweden’s demographic is unique. First, many of its citizens live in single-occupancy households and normally keep a physical distance in their day-to-day activities in any case; thus, reducing the chance of infection spread. Second, its government is not ministerial, meaning its constitution does not allow the government to easily dictate what its respective administrative agencies can do. Therefore, the government is constrained in its ability to legally implement a more stringent approach. Finally, the Swedish population has traditionally maintained a distinguished level of trust in its institution. 70% of Sweden’s general public support its policy. Even in the absence of a lockdown mandate, its citizens principally upheld their collective obligations and adhered to their government’s recommendations.
As to whether this method remains the right one to have pursued, the verdict remains unclear. Although countries with strict lockdowns will likely be more susceptible in the event of a second wave, if an effective vaccine is discovered soon enough, it will provide the same level of immunity to the population at a radically lower cost to peoples’ lives. Thus far, the first human trials of a vaccine in the US have produced positive results in its first eight patients, with the UK taskforce not far behind in its progress. While researchers are confident a vaccine will be ready within 18 months, the Chief Scientific Advisor has warned that, as with any new vaccines, these developments are long shots and the process “will take time”, with only some attempts resulting in success.
Spotlight on LGBTQ+ Rights in Honour of IDAHOBIT
In 1990 the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders recognising it as a natural variant of human sexuality. This landmark decision is honoured every May 17 with International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Alongside celebrations of gender and sexual diversity taking place around the world such as the UN Free and Equal Campaign Video Release, this day offers a moment to reflect on both advances made and challenges remaining in LGBTQ+ rights.
With this year’s theme of “Breaking the Silence” Human Rights Watch presented a global report card on the status of LGBTQ+ rights. Yet, simply looking at this past week shows that while some countries make progress, others continue taking steps back. Ninety-six human rights and LGBT organizations signed and sent a letter to Japan’s prime minister demanding a law protecting against sexual and gender-based discrimination. Hungary passed new legislation banning the legal recognition of transgender and intersex people. Despite lawmakers around the world banning ‘conversion therapy,’ there is still concern over the success of purely punitive approaches. Protecting the advances made in human rights, is more important than ever amidst the COVID-19 crisis which has disproportionately impacted the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
Other stories making the news around the world
- Call to Action to Help Vulnerable Artisanal & Small-Scale Mining Communities (Human Rights Watch)
- SADC Leaders Meet to Discuss Urgent Opportunity to Assist Mozambique Civilians at Risk (Human Rights Watch)
- Arrest of Félicien Kabuga as Major Victory for Victims and Survivors of Rwandan Genocide (Al Jazeera)
- Nepal Laws Fail to Prevent Women and Girls from Growing Problem of Online Gender-Based-Violence (Human Rights Watch)
- Hong Kong Releases misleading IPCC report into Protests (Amnesty International)
- 25 Years After Tibetan Panchen Lama ‘Disappeared’ and China Battle for Religious Control Continues (Human Rights Watch)
South and South-east Asia
- Blogger Held over Land Dispute Report Raises Questions about Freedom of Speech in Indonesia (Human Rights Watch)
- Alarming Public Health Situation: Cambodia’s ‘War on Drugs’ Fuels Rising Human Rights Violations (Amnesty International)
- Open Letter Issued Urging France to End Discriminatory Police Stops and Fines (Human Rights Watch)
- France: Acquittal of Farmer who Helped Asylum Seekers Shows Acts of Solidarity should Not be Criminalized (Amnesty International)
- Must not Forget Vital Human Rights Issues in UK beyond the Pandemic (Human Rights Watch)
- Families Protest Relatives gone Missing in Yemen’s Five-Year War (Al Jazeera)
- Kurdish Authorities in Iraq Suppress Protests over Unpaid Salaries (Human Rights Watch)
- Memorandum of Understanding between Wet’suwet’en and Canada Marks Path Towards Negotiations on Aboriginal Title (Al Jazeera)
- Lawsuit Filed Against ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program seeking Answers about US Migrant Protection Protocols (Human Rights Watch)