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Swedish officials praised the success of the country’s controversial lockdown-free coronavirus strategy on Tuesday, saying that the relaxed policies have helped slow the transmission of COVID-19. 

At a press briefing in on Tuesday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said: “Transmission is slowing down, the treatment of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is decreasing significantly, and the rising death toll curve has been flattened.”

But the wider picture of the country’s coronavirus response is a bit more complicated. 

Some Swedish experts have said the country’s methods will eventually yield positive results, while others have acknowledged serious pitfalls in the risky strategy.

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Swedish officials defended the country’s lockdown-free coronavirus strategy on Tuesday, saying that the controversial method has slowed the spread of COVID-19. 

Sweden never issued a formal lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the country’s coronavirus model relies on personal responsibility and encourages citizens to stay home when they’re sick and maintain social distancing when in public. Most businesses, restaurants, bars, and schools have remained open, though gatherings of more than 50 people were banned in late March.

At a press briefing in Stockholm on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Ann Linde touted the successes of the country’s policies. 

“Transmission is slowing down, the treatment of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is decreasing significantly, and the rising death toll curve has been flattened,” she said, according to Associated Press. “There is no full lockdown of Sweden, but many parts of the Swedish society have shut down.”

But the wider picture of the country’s coronavirus response is a bit more complicated. 

As of Tuesday, Sweden has recorded over 34,440 cases and 4,125 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University data, the country’s number of daily new coronavirus cases has seen several sporadic spikes and drops since it recorded its first case in late February. For example, on May 19, the country recorded 234 new cases, and by May 21 that number shot up to 724.

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According to AP, the country is currently reporting one of the highest mortality rates from the virus of any country, with about 40 deaths per 100,000 people. The country’s unemployment rate stands at 7.9% and is expected to continue to rise. 

And figures from Our World In Data, an online research publication based at the University of Oxford, indicated that Sweden recorded the most coronavirus deaths in Europe per capita over the seven days between May 12 and May 19.

Experts are split on whether Sweden’s strategy is workingA memorial in Stockholm’s Mynttorget square in memory of loved ones lost to the new coronavirus in April 2020.

ONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

Johan Giesecke, Sweden’s former chief epidemiologist who is now a health adviser to the World Health Organization, told Business Insider that Sweden’s controversial policy had not yet been successful in curbing the COVID-19 outbreak in the country but would in the future.

He predicted that Sweden’s case count and death toll would continue to rise in the coming weeks but said the country was “on the downward slope.”

“When countries with a lockdown open up, they will get their cases,” he said.

Other Swedish officials have acknowledged serious shortfalls in the risky strategy.

In April, more than 2,000 Swedish scientists signed open letters urging the country to reconsider a lockdown. 

Sweden’s former state epidemiologist Annika Linde told local newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Tuesday that the country’s coronavirus response “maybe hasn’t been the smartest in every respect.” 

“If we had to do this over again, I think we should have imposed significantly tougher restrictions from the beginning,” she told the outlet. “We should have known how underprepared we were in healthcare, and elder care. A shutdown could have given us a chance to prepare ourselves, think things through, and radically slow the spread of infection.”

Sweden’s foreign minister acknowledged criticism of Sweden’s policies in her Tuesday briefing and encouraged experts to continue to voice their opinions. 

“We have freedom of speech in Sweden,” she said. 

Still, she remained confident that Sweden’s actions would cultivate success in curbing the virus in the long term. 

“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” she said. 

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