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Swedes slam PM after he ignores his own COVID guidelines

Rafaela Lindeberg and Niclas Rolander
Bloomberg

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is facing an historic slump in voter confidence after he was caught flouting his own government’s Covid guidelines.

The prime minister, along with a number of senior government officials, has been criticized harshly in Swedish media in recent days after appearing to ignore social distancing recommendations amid a dangerous spike in coronavirus cases. Lofven went on a pre-Christmas shopping tour, while his finance minister, Magdalena Andersson, was photographed renting skis in a popular resort singled out by health authorities as a place to avoid.

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.

Following those revelations, support for Lofven has slumped 7 points to just 31% of Swedish voters, according to a web-based poll by Demoskop published in Aftonbladet on Tuesday. The reading represents the biggest single-month slump in Lofven’s popularity since the pandemic started, Demoskop says.

The development follows a growing chorus of criticism of Sweden’s Covid strategy, with even King Carl XVI Gustaf taking the unusual step of airing his disapproval. The country has so far avoided a lockdown, coinciding with a much higher death rate than elsewhere in the Nordic region.

Lofven has acknowledged that a change of course is needed, and his government is waiting for parliament to approve a bill submitted on Monday that would give him he power to shutter shops and restaurants to fight the pandemic.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, said at a briefing on Tuesday that the situation shows no signs of improving.

“We have a lot of patients being admitted to intensive care units, and there is no sign of that decreasing,” he said. “Unfortunately, the same goes for fatalities.”

Credibility

While the government had already seen confidence in its Covid strategy sink, Lofven’s shopping tour appears to have dealt a particularly deep blow to his credibility. It came not long after he personally urged Swedes to avoid shopping malls, and said he hoped “everyone in Sweden understands the seriousness” of the situation.

“Many people seem to think that there is a double standard,” Karin Nelsson, CEO of Demoskop, told Aftonbladet.

Adding to the government’s embarrassment, a top official on Sweden’s corona-virus response team went on a Christmas holiday to the Canary Islands. Dan Eliasson, the director general of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, opted to take the trip despite official guidelines to avoid all “unnecessary” travel.

Only 6% of Swedes say they have confidence in Eliasson, while as many as six in ten say they have “very little confidence” in him, according to the poll.