The British government is coming under mounting criticism over its response to the COVID-19 crisis. As Britain’s overall coronavirus death toll overtakes its European neighbours, opinion polling shows the British public think only the USA has handled the pandemic worse.

The UK government’s latest slogan (“Stay Alert!”) has been labelled confusing, and leaders of devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have refused to adopt it. Healthcare and care home staff have complained about PPE shortages, and widespread community testing (which was discontinued by the government on 12 March, only to be resumed later) has been slow to ramp up.

Scientists are also sending warning signals about the UK’s lockdown exit strategy. David Hunter, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford, has warned that the UK’s lockdown is being relaxed without a clear strategy to “test, trace, isolate” (something central to the approach in countries that have so far contained the spread of the virus, including South Korea, Taiwan, China, Australia and New Zealand). In recent days, worrying images have been circulating on social media of commuters packed onto buses and tube trains.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes it is too early to make international comparisons (though that’s exactly what his government has been doing for the past seven weeks, only stopping when the UK rose to the top spot in Europe). However, researchers are already beginning to group and compare strategies and outcomes from the initial phase of the pandemic.

In Europe, the UK tends to be grouped with Sweden and the Netherlands as countries that acted relatively slowly and adopted so-called ‘herd immunity’ strategies. Indeed, while the UK and Netherlands eventually reversed their approaches, Sweden has been held up as an example of a more liberal response to the pandemic, without a full lockdown in place and with much greater responsibility placed on individuals behaving responsibly and social distancing.

However, Sweden’s approach is controversial. Paul Franks, professor of epidemiology at Lund University, points out that Sweden has the highest fatality rate among the Nordic countries (more than three times higher than neighbouring Denmark), adding “I wouldn’t say right now it looks like open society approach has worked really well”.

In addition, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies programme, has stated he believes it is “dangerous” for countries that have had “lax” pandemic responses to think they might “all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity”.

The Swedish government, however, argues that their pandemic response represents a “marathon, not a sprint”. They believe fatality rates will rise in neighbouring countries over the long-term, as those countries relax their lockdowns, while economic damage will be limited in Sweden.

Have the UK and Sweden mismanaged their COVID-19 response? Or is it simply too early to make international comparisons? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (cc) elenarostunova

3 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform-Proactive

    Probably too early to tell! The Swedish & UK model hardly compare.

    Every nation seemed to have switched into different (panic) modes- depending which scientist or medical advisor was employed & who was believed more!

    Swedish gov. Anders Tegnell:

    Swedish expert Prof. Johan Giesecke:

    Prof. Sucharit Bhakdi (German):

    Dr. Anthony Fauci (US):
    Fauci US Senate hearing underway:

    Dr. Ioannidis (US):

    Prof Michael Levitt (US):

    Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (US):

    The result in casualties might be similar, the only difference: Sweden probably saved most of its national economy, the rest damaged theirs.
    I favor Sweden’s approach!

    Medical doctors usually overprescribe because it’s safer & the state health system pays. Only politicians can be held accountable- not medics!

    Not mentioned often: the level of “ill health= underlying conditions & “prosperity diseases” in the various populations.

    Not sure if these stats need to be updated after Covid-19 is over?

    Interesting to listen to all. We all are judges!

  2. avatar
    Catherine Benning

    Have the UK and Sweden mismanaged their COVID-19 responses?

    The real problem is, not only in the UK but world wide, there are no mature and knowledgeable leaders. They are running around like headless chickens, believing telling unfounded stories is going to save their bacon. They don’t know what to do. The economy or lives, both being a catastrophe if no solutions found. And there is no solution to be found presently because they refuse to face reality. They are terrified of what they have done and being accountable for it. The science is all over the place. All thinking if they are first they will make massive financial killings. None caring if it works just the initial flood of money. Greedy naughty babies all of them.

    What we need are stable, credible adults we can trust. Ones who know the basic necessities of common sense and historical facts. Plagues and their outcomes have been recorded since biblical days. This modern bunch have little or no connection to historical solutions or outcomes and are in a mess as a result. Nothing to hang onto culturally or scientifically.

    Then add to that the fear of being able to honestly discuss the situation. All trying to hide the truth desperately needed to reach unity around the circumstances and find a way out through it. That horrid nonsense of the intolerable requirement called not to offend, disagree with or should you do so, end up being called a nasty name if you expose the reality of the crazed lunacy of the correct gender, race or whatever the additional irrational cling onto idea is at present. Hence Sweden and the UK showing signs of the most irrational thinking and consequent plans outwardly and up front now in our faces. Have you looked at the intellect and education of the UK present government make up as well as its level of representatives? Seriously this is dangerous to us all. And occurred as a result of being in the EU. There is no such thing as open ended loyalty. The concept goes against the nature of survival and that will never be connected to common sense. It is profoundly anti human.

    A view from a social psyche.

    The difference of methodical and cultural conservatism on the virus.

    And the answer being residents only as well as strict observation.

    And how they wash the streets in South Korea. Now why has our own hygiene street levels dropped to the equivalent of India over the last 30 to 40 years. No street washing, no disinfectant or garbage clearance on a regular basis. With the influx of immigrants, has come an influx of relaxed hygiene levels similar to what we see in Mumbai. Now why is that?

    And a small example of the spread of UK disease.

  3. avatar

    What has misled most Western democracies is their pride and prejudice on China. They might have been probably thinking that if such a backward China can keep the mortality rate at round 5%, why more advanced democracies cannot do better than communist China in fighting Covid-2019? Democracy and anti-China appear to be real antidote for the West.

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