Sweden’s controversial response to the coronavirus pandemic continues, as the country’s public health agency has announced that Covid-19 patients will be required to carry out their own contact tracing.
The agency decided on Monday to repeal the old rules on contact tracing and issued non-binding guidelines, pending an official announcement of its new coronavirus regime.
In many cases, healthcare staff will no longer carry out the systematic tracking down of potentially infected persons. Instead, the Covid-positive patients themselves will have to make the somewhat awkward phone calls.
“It is much better that you and I do it ourselves than having someone sitting at a contact-tracing unit doing it for you,” Bitte Brastad, head of the Public Health Agency's legal department, explained.
Previously, patients were only required to carry out their own contact tracing in exceptional circumstances, whereas now each hospital will decide whether its staff or the patients themselves carry out the tracing.
The onus is placed on hospitals to develop their own procedures for guaranteeing the patient has actually contacted potentially infected people, though no mention has yet been made of penalties for failure to do this. The logic behind the decision is that if a patient can order their own test they can conduct their own contact tracing, Brastad argues.
“The healthcare sector has had to make a whole bunch of decisions to be able to delegate that responsibility and they have not had time for that. It has not been possible. It has been difficult and it need not be.”
Swedish health authorities conducted an initial blitz of testing and tracing at the start of the pandemic but only on those exhibiting symptoms and those who had returned from areas deemed high-risk. This lapse in vigilance may have allowed people from then-low-risk countries to bring the virus into Sweden.
The Swedish response has been widely and repeatedly criticized, from its laissez-faire approach to any lockdown, to its scrapping of test-and-tracing once community infections emerged, to its lackluster deployment of widespread public testing.
Sweden has reported over 78,000 confirmed cases and over 5,600 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, with many claiming that the country sacrificed its elderly for the sake of its economy.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist recently admitted that he’s had some regrets about the country’s handling of the crisis.
“If we were to encounter the same disease again, knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” he said.
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