Sweden should establish an independent expert unit with a high level of scientific expertise for advising decisionmakers during pandemics. This is one of the actions proposed in the final report by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Expert Group on COVID-19. It also states that decisive measures at an early stage, as well as clear information, are critical factors in controlling the spread of infection and reducing the number of hospitalisations and deaths during a pandemic.
Continued monitoring and effective vaccination programmes are vital at Sweden’s current stage in the pandemic. However, the assessment of the Expert Group is that the development of a pandemic largely depends on the actions taken early on. In Sweden, most organisations were inadequately prepared when infection started to spread, and the extensive morbidity and high mortality during the first two waves of the pandemic were primarily due to the overly mild and tardy measures to prevent the initial spread of infection. Imported infections were not limited at an early stage and the strategy did not consider the importance of counteracting local outbreaks, or of testing and quarantining people who had been exposed.
Instead, people were expected to take significant responsibility for reducing the spread of infection themselves, but information from the authorities to the public was often regarded as unclear and contradictory. This included objections to the use of face masks, and the early dismissal of the risk that people with presymptomatic or asymptomatic infections could be infectious.
What lessons can we learn for future pandemics? The Expert Group has identified a number of areas, relating to everything from reviewing legislation to defining and fulfilling needs for healthcare and equipment in advance. Wide-ranging education and training, a high level of coordination between healthcare regions on testing and vaccinations, and increased collaboration between clinical and academic laboratories are also required.
The Expert Group also proposes that Sweden establishes an independent expert unit with a high level of scientific expertise and international ties in relevant areas.
“We believe that such a unit could provide the Government, responsible politicians and public authorities with updated scientific information and advice on pathogens, the spread of infection, measures for infection control, the implementation of testing methods and vaccination strategies,” says the chair of the Expert Group, Staffan Normark.
Lastly, the Expert Group also highlights the importance of learning from others and cross-border cooperation. In the future they would like to see strengthened international involvement and expanded cooperation with other Nordic countries in the entire field of communicable disease control.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Expert Group on COVID-19 was established in the early autumn of 2020 and tasked with inventorying current knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, as well as with highlighting the lessons that can be learned, including on communicable disease control. It has eight members who are leading experts in microbiology, communicable disease control, immunology and other relevant fields. Six interim reports have already been published. The Group is now presenting its final report: What can we learn from the pandemic?
Eva Nevelius, Press Secretary, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
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