COVID-19 deaths top 4,000 in under-fire Sweden

State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, center, of the Public Health Agency of Sweden gives an update on the COVID-19 situation, May 25, 2020, in Solna, near Stockholm, Sweden. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2020

COVID-19 deaths top 4,000 in under-fire Sweden

  • The Public Health Agency said it had recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants
  • Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has gained international attention for its softer approach to the coronavirus than many of its European neighbors, said on Monday its number of deaths passed the 4,000 mark.
The Public Health Agency said it had recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants, with 90 percent of the deceased over the age of 70.
Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.
According to AFP’s own database, Sweden’s virus death rate of 399 per million inhabitants is far higher than Norway’s 43 per million, Denmark’s 97, or Finland’s 55.
However it is still lower than for France at 435 per million, Britain and Italy, both at 542, and Spain at 615.
Critics have accused Swedish authorities of gambling with citizens’ lives by not imposing strict stay-at-home measures. But the Public Health Agency has insisted its approach is sustainable in the long-term and has rejected drastic short-term measures as too ineffective to justify their impact on society.
The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, while urging people to respect social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency stressed countries’ death tolls should be compared with caution.
“In Sweden, anybody who has the diagnosis of COVID-19 and dies within 30 days after that is called a COVID-19 case, irrespective of the actual cause of death. And we know that in many other countries there are other ways of counting that are used,” he told AFP.
Tegnell has repeatedly insisted that stricter measures would not have saved more Swedish lives.
Three-quarters of those who have died have been either in nursing homes or receiving at-home care.
Tegnell noted that a ban on visits to nursing homes was introduced in mid-March, but said elderly residents needed regular contact with their carers — who were believed to have spread the virus around many nursing homes.
“I’m really not sure that we could have done so much more,” he said in a weekend interview with Swedish Radio, acknowledging nonetheless that the country had ended up in a “terrible situation that highlights the weaknesses of our elderly care.”
He said care homes had initially failed to respect basic hygiene rules that could have curbed the spread of the disease, but said the situation had since improved.
The Board of Health and Welfare meanwhile insisted Sweden’s nursing homes were functioning well.
It noted that a total of 11,000 nursing home residents died in January-April this year, compared with 10,000 during the same period a year ago.
And Tegnell told reporters Monday that the overall situation in Sweden “was getting better,” with a declining number of people being admitted to intensive care units, a drop in the number of cases being reported in nursing homes, and fewer deaths in nursing homes.


UK to deploy military to prevent migrant Channel crossings

The Royal Navy has been deployed as recently as January 2019 in an attempt to reduce the number of refugees and migrants arriving to the UK via the English Channel. (Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2020

UK to deploy military to prevent migrant Channel crossings

  • French parliamentarian called the plans a “political measure” that would not help the situation.
  • Roughly 4,000 people have made the dangerous trip from France to the UK so far this year.

LONDON: The UK has announced it will use the military to prevent migrants entering the country from France via the English Channel, but the plans have drawn criticism from French politicians and rights groups in the UK.

More than 4,000 people have successfully made the crossing so far this year, and many of those have done so in small and overburdened boats.

Responding to the escalating number of people attempting the journey, the Home Office officially requested last week that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) assist the Border Force in its duties.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said her department was “working to make this route unviable” and announced on Sunday the appointment of a former Royal Marine to manage the government’s response to the crossings.

In response to Patel’s request, the MoD announced on Monday that it would send a Royal Air Force plane with spotters on board to assist the Border Force in its operations in the English Channel.

But the issue has caused tension between the UK and France.

The French National Assembly member for Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont, slammed the decision to use the military to prevent crossings as a useless “political measure.”

He said: “What is the British navy going to do if it sees a small boat? Is it going to shoot the boat? Is it going to enter French waters? It’s a political measure to show some kind of muscle but technically speaking it won’t change anything.”

Paris has also requested that London provides £30 million to fund French efforts to prevent migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing from their side.

Patel’s decision to use the military to prevent Channel crossings has also drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

Bella Sankey, a barrister and director of Detention Action said: “The home secretary’s hysterical plea to the navy is as irresponsible as it is ironic. Pushbacks at sea are unlawful and would threaten human lives.

“No civilised country can even consider this, let alone a country with a tradition of offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution,” she added.

Migration has long been a hot button issue in British politics, and this will not be the first time authorities have used the military to enforce migration policies.

In January 2019, the Royal Navy sent three ships to the Channel to prevent migrant crossings, saying at the time that the deployment would “help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey.”