The World Health Organisation has appeared to take a swipe at Sweden over its response to COVID-19, suggesting the “herd immunity” approach the country has adopted is “dangerous”.
Herd immunity is the idea that exposing the population to the virus builds up natural immunity. About 60 per cent of the population would need to be infected for such a strategy to work.
“This idea that, ‘Well, maybe countries who had lax measures and haven’t done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity, and so what if we lose a few old people along the way?’ This is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation,” WHO’s executive director of health emergencies Mike Ryan said on a call with reporters.
RELATED: Follow our coronavirus coverage here
RELATED: Experts warn herd immunity is a myth
He didn’t name any country in particular, but Swedish nursing homes have been enduring a high death rate after the herd immunity strategy was implemented.
At one point, Mr Ryan did say that “in some countries, over half of the cases have occurred in long-term care facilities,” where people haven’t been “properly shielded”.
He described herd immunity as a policy which is “concerned with the overall health of the herd, and individual animals in that sense, doesn’t matter”.
“Humans are not herds,” he said.
Sweden has maintained a relatively relaxed disease-fighting strategy, keeping bars, schools, and gyms open during the pandemic, while simultaneously encouraging people to stay home when they’re sick, practice social distancing and keep up impeccable personal hygiene.
Some officials have conceded the country could have gone about things better.
A top Swedish official is saying lessons should be learned from tackling the coronavirus pandemic and Sweden could maybe have acted “a little faster”.
In a radio interview on Monday, Dan Eliasson, head of Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency told Swedish radio that “when major crises occur, you will always look at it afterwards. So comes the question, did we react fast enough?”
His comments come after Health Minister Lena Hallengren last month told Swedish television: “We failed to protect our elderly. That’s really serious and a failure for society as a whole. We have to learn from this.”
Australia did not pursue herd immunity, instead opting for containment or elimination.
The idea of allowing people to get infected deliberately has been described as “offensive” and akin to murder.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has railed against the herd immunity strategy, likening it to a “death sentence”.
Sweden, which has a population of around 10.2 million, has recorded 26,670 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began, and 4971 recoveries.
The country has reported more than 3175 fatalities and 90 per cent of those who had died as of April 28 were above the age of 70, according to official figures. The country currently has the sixth highest death rate per capita globally.
Half were nursing home residents, and another quarter were receiving care at home.