What we can learn from Sweden's approach to COVID-19: WHO coronavirus briefing

People enjoy the spring weather at an outdoor restaurant amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Stockholm, Sweden April 26, 2020. Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. - RC2FCG9W6HZ6
People enjoy the spring weather at an outdoor restaurant amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Stockholm, Sweden April 26, 2020.
Image: via REUTERS
  • The World Health Organization held a media briefing on 29 April to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  • Governments will need to change their relationship with the public to manage the virus in the long term.
  • Sweden's approach – a combination of trust and strategic controls – could provide a key model for other countries.

Governments looking for long-term solutions for managing COVID-19 could start with their relationship with the general public, Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the World Health Organization Health (WHO) Emergencies Programme said at a briefing Wednesday.

Sweden has gained attention worldwide for its unique approach to managing the virus. The country has not implemented many of the lockdown measures taken around the globe. For instance, while gatherings of more than 50 people are banned, restaurants and bars have remained open.

Ryan said the country has, however, adopted a range of measures to help tackle the virus. Sweden has ramped up its intensive care capacity, has a strong public health policy around physical distancing and key protections in place for those in long-term care facilities, all of which have helped its health system cope with COVID-19 cases.

The major difference in Sweden’s approach is trust in the population. Ryan said: “What it has done differently is it is very much relying on its relationship with its citizenry. It really has trusted its own communities to implement that physical distance.”

That trust, combined with strategic controls and clear communication, could provide a template for other countries that are loosening lockdown restrictions to safely adapt to a new normal. Ryan said: "If we are to reach a new normal, in many ways Sweden represents a future model."

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Still, Ryan cautioned on Sweden's strategy: “It remains to be seen whether [its approach] will be fully successful or not.”

Continued vigilance will be key regardless of the exact model countries follow. Ryan said: “If we wish to get back to a society in which we don't have lockdowns, then society may need to adapt to a medium[-term], or potentially a longer period of time in which our physical and social relationships with each other will have to be moderated by the presence of the virus.

“We will have to be aware the virus is present and we will have to, as individuals, families and communities, do everything possible on a day-to-day basis to reduce the transmission of the virus.”