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.


Thai protesters kick off weekend of rallies

Updated 19 min 6 sec ago

Thai protesters kick off weekend of rallies

  • Thailand has seen near-daily gatherings of youth-led groups since mid-July
  • Some are also demanding reforms to the kingdom’s ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy

BANGKOK: Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Bangkok Saturday as a rally expected to draw tens of thousands of people kicked off calling for PM Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down and demanding reforms to the monarchy.
Thailand has seen near-daily gatherings of youth-led groups since mid-July demanding the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief behind the 2014 coup, and a complete overhaul of his administration.
Some are also demanding reforms to the kingdom’s ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy — a once-taboo topic in Thailand due to its tough royal defamation laws.
The burgeoning movement, partly inspired by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, remains largely leaderless.
But the weekend’s demonstration is organized by students of Bangkok’s Thammasat University — a group that has been among the most vocal about the royal family’s role in Thailand.
A crowd of several hundred gathered before noon at the locked gates of the university, demanding to be let in. Protesters chanted “Down with dictatorship, long live democracy!” and “Prayut get out!”
“If you don’t open, we will break in,” protesters yelled, before forcing the gates open — despite student leaders calling for calm — allowing hundreds to flow into the campus.
The demonstration was later expected to move on to the historic Sanam Luang field in front of the royal palace, where protesters plan to spend the night.
“We are fighting for more democracy,” prominent student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul said on the eve of the protest.
“The plan is not to destroy the monarchy but to modernize it, to adapt it to our society.”
On Sunday, demonstrators are expected to march to the nearby Government House — a move authorities have warned against.
The show of force is expected to be the largest since the 2014 coup — student activists are hoping for a turnout of more than 50,000 supporters.
Police said some 10,000 officers would be deployed around the area.
A cycle of violent protests and coups has long plagued Thailand, with the arch-royalist military stepping in to stage more than a dozen putsches since the end of royal absolutism in 1932.
The latest wave of student-led demonstrations has largely been peaceful.
But unprecedented calls from some protesters for frank discussions about the monarchy have sent shockwaves through the kingdom.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn sits at the apex of Thai power, buttressed by the kingdom’s military and billionaire clans, and commands a fortune estimated to be worth up to $60 billion.
The student demands include greater accounting of the palace’s finances, the abolition of royal defamation laws and a call for the king to remain outside of politics.
They also want a rewrite of the 2017 military-scripted constitution, which they say tilted last year’s election in Prayut’s favor, and for the government to stop “harassing” political opponents.
So far, authorities have arrested more than two dozen activists, charging them with sedition before releasing them on bail.
The weekend demonstrations will prove a test for the pro-democracy movement, analysts say, which has gained momentum online thanks to the students’ savvy use of social media.
“A critical mass would send a clear message that the protesters are a force to be reckoned with,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University.
Prayut has warned Thailand could be “engulfed in flames” if the movement goes too far.
But he vowed authorities would use “soft measures” on the protesters “because they are children.”
The top-trending hashtag on Thai Twitter late Friday was “Sept 19, we take back the power of the people.”
Around the world, Thais are expected to gather in solidarity, with weekend protests planned in a dozen countries, including Germany, Australia and the United States.