Sweden’s COVID-19 strategy sees 500 residents die in its aged care homes

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A dire situation that supports the need for restrictions to stay in place here in Australia.

One-third of the Scandinavian country’s 1,540 COVID-19 deaths have reportedly happened in its aged care homes – around 500 people – and experts and aged care staff say Sweden’s relaxed approach to social distancing is to blame.

Sweden made headlines with its ‘light-touch’ strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which asked – rather than ordered – people to avoid non-essential travel, work from home and stay indoors if they are over 70 or are feeling ill.

However, its number of confirmed cases has grown to 14,385 among its population of 10 million.

Like Australia, the country had banned non-essential visitors to its aged care homes.

However, the Government’s advice to aged care homes was that staff should not wear masks or use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) unless they are dealing with a resident in the home, they suspect is infected – and that staff should stay home if they detect any symptoms in themselves.

“The worst thing is that it is us, the staff, who are taking the infection in to the elderly,” one nurse told Swedish public broadcaster SVT. “It’s unbelievable that more of them haven’t been infected. It’s a scandal.”

Lena Einhorn, a virologist who has criticised Sweden’s coronavirus policy, said the Government and its Health agency has failed to acknowledged that staff are the likely route.

“They say it’s very unfortunate, that they are investigating, and that it’s a matter of the training personnel, but they will not acknowledge that pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic spread is a factor,” she said.

Einhorn blames Sweden’s decision to keep schools and kindergartens open, and not to shut restaurants or bars, for the spread in aged care homes.

“It’s not like it goes from one old age home to another. It comes in separately to all of these old age homes, so there’s no way it can be all be attributed to the personnel going in and working when they are sick. There’s a basic system fault in their recommendations. There’s no other explanation for it.”

Experts also estimate the number of COVID-19 deaths in aged care homes is also higher – because similar to other European countries, Sweden is not conducting COVID-19 testing in residential care.