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WHO hails Sweden as a 'model' for fighting coronavirus without a lockdown

'What it has done differently is it has very much relied on its relationship with its citizenry'

Image source: New York Post video screenshot

Sweden has taken heavy criticism for refusing to issue a nationwide lockdown while facing the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Wednesday, the World Health Organization praised the Scandinavian country as a "model" for managing the virus without shutting down its economy.

What are the details?

The New York Post reported that WHO's chief emergencies expert, Dr. Mike Ryan, told reporters during a news conference that there are "lessons to be learned" from Sweden, "which has largely relied on citizens to self-regulate" during the crisis.

"I think there's a perception out that Sweden has not put in control measures and just has allowed the disease to spread," Ryan said. "Nothing can be further from the truth."

Instead of mandating mass closures, Sweden's residents have been advised to maintain social distancing, work from home when possible, and to avoid contact with the elderly. Schools for kids up to the age of 16 remain open, along with restaurants, bars, and shops, according to Newsweek.

Ryan explained that in lieu of a national lockdown, Sweden "put in place a very strong public policy around social distancing, around caring and protecting people in long term care facilities."

"What it has done differently is it has very much relied on its relationship with its citizenry and the ability and willingness of its citizens to implement self-distancing and self-regulate," he continued. "In that sense, they have implemented public policy through that partnership with the population."

Ryan added, "I think if we are to reach a new normal, Sweden represents a model if we wish to get back to a society in which we don't have lockdowns."

Sweden has implemented some restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak, such as banning gatherings of more than 50 people and requiring high schools and universities to teach courses online rather than on-site.

Newsweek reported that last month, nearly 2,300 academics signed an open letter to the Swedish government, urging leaders to impose similar lockdown measures implemented by nearly every country in reaction to the coronavirus. But the nation's leaders refused.

While Sweden's death toll from the virus is higher than other Nordic countries at more than 2,100, the epidemiologist leading the country's response said their anti-lockdown strategy places the nation in a better position to face a possible second wave of COVID-19.

Anders Tegnell told CNBC, "We believe that we have an immunity level, if I remember rightly, somewhere between 15-20 percent of the population in Stockholm," the capital of Sweden.

"This is not complete herd immunity," Tegnell said, "but it will definitely affect the reproduction rate and slow down the spread" of a second wave.

Tegnell said he expects Stockholm, where most of the country's 17,500 coronavirus cases have been reported, will reach herd immunity within "a few weeks' time."

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