The UK can “learn a lot” from Sweden’s approach to Covid rules

Jeremy Hunt said the UK could “learn a lot” from Sweden’s decision not to impose a mandatory Covid lockdown.

The chancellor admitted that the Scandinavian country achieved a similar result to the UK without having to resort to draconian rules.

Throughout the pandemic, Stockholm has adhered to a voluntary approach to restrictions, relying on people’s personal responsibility.

His remarks come as The Telegraph reveals how Boris Johnson was warned by Britain’s top civil servant of the effects of the lockdowns.

Just days before the then prime minister shut down the country for a second time, Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, told him it would be “terrible for other effects”.

“Voluntary Approach”

Hunt was asked in an interview with GB News whether Sweden’s approach proved to be the right one compared to the zero-Covid strategy pursued by some countries.

He said: “I don’t think it’s that black and white. We used the law, Sweden used a voluntary approach, but we had broadly similar levels of compliance with the lockdown.

“In this respect, I think there is a lot to be learned from what Sweden has done. But I don’t think there’s that much of a difference.”

The chancellor said the UK was “the best in the world” at rolling out a vaccine, but admitted that the early response to the virus was flawed.

He admitted that the outbreak contingency plans put in place while he was health secretary were developed for a flu pandemic, so the Covid-19 outbreak took them by surprise.

“We Must All Be Humble”

“We all need to be humble about the events surrounding the pandemic because I don’t think we’ve done as well as we could as a country,” he said.

“Looking back, the approach I advocated when I chaired the Select Committee on Health was to track what they did in Korea and Taiwan, where they avoided national lockdowns with a much more effective testing and tracking system.”

It comes as WhatsApp messages obtained by The Telegraph reveal how senior civil servants expressed early concerns about the potential impact of a second lockdown in November 2020.

In a message sent on October 29, 2020, two days before the restrictions were announced, Mr Case wrote: “I think we need to be brutally honest with people. Full lockdowns optimize our society/economy for tackling the Covid R rate – but terrible for other outcomes (non-Covid health, jobs, education, social cohesion, mental health, etc).”

His message was circulated on a WhatsApp group that included Matt Hancock, the health secretary at the time; Prof. Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer; Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser; and Dominic Cummings, Mr. Johnson’s chief counsel.

They are worried about “minor ailments”

The revelations are contained in the Lockdown Files, a cache of more than 100,000 messages circulating among senior politicians and officials and obtained by The Telegraph.

The announcements also show that ministers were concerned that the excess number of non-Covid deaths would be fueled by the public not being screened for “minor ailments” that could later “escalate into major” problems.

The Lockdown File also reveals that in May 2021 a “quick review” was carried out of an alarming rise in “sad child deaths” in mental health hospital wards across England.

At the time, there were also fears of a “coming epidemic” of children’s respiratory viruses, caused by the lockdown and suppression of infection.

NHS England said there were no records of the rapid review taking place and The Telegraph could not find any evidence of any official report being published.

Mr Hunt’s remarks were welcomed by Tory MPs who opposed Covid lockdowns and want to make sure lessons were learned from the response to the pandemic.

“Restrictions on Freedom”

Peter Bone MP for Wellingborough said: “Of course the restrictions on freedoms that the government sought were based on what they thought was right at the time.

“But there have been people who have warned of the damage the lockdown is doing to individual liberties, people’s well-being, but also to the economy.

“I think in retrospect without the lockdown we would have had almost the same result. If you advise people to do something in this country, they usually do it. You don’t need draconian laws.”

Sweden has taken a soft approach to supervising people’s behavior during the pandemic, keeping shops and restaurants open at all times.

The government relied heavily on people voluntarily following guidelines to maintain social distancing, wear a mask and “only travel when you must”.

In a few cases, it underwent legal restrictions, the main area being restrictions on the number of people who could attend large social gatherings.

ONS figures released in December showed that Sweden had one of the lowest excess mortality rates in Europe, significantly lower than the UK.

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