Is Sweden's decision not to have a coronavirus lockdown a fatal mistake?

To visit Stockholm is to step back in time. To glimpse a fondly remembered past, where restaurants and bars do brisk business in the first sunshine of spring.

Children play football in a packed park and a group of young adults spread blankets to picnic on the grass.

Try any of that in the UK and see how long it takes for the police to warn you off.

When it comes to combating coronavirus, Sweden is an out-rider - an experiment being followed closely by other nations.

There's no lockdown here. Instead there's light touch regulation. Citizens are expected to keep a safe distance; they're not ordered to stay home. Sweden wants to emerge from this crisis with an economy that still functions. The question is, at what cost to life? So far, it is too early to come to conclusions.

"Don't count the casualties until the the battle is over," says Dr Johan Giesecke , a former state epidemiologist, who tells me that without a vaccine or effective treatment, there is no way of stopping the virus.

The aim is to slow its spread. Herd immunity, in other words. Though that is not the official aim.

Compared with the UK, Sweden's death rate is low. But it is much higher than its Nordic neighbours, Denmark, Finland and Norway, which have followed the lockdown model.

So far, there has been more than 19,000 confirmed cases and at least 2,355 deaths.

  • Sweden's state epidemiologist: 'We're not gambling with lives'

And one area that has significantly failed is among the elderly. Half of the country's fatalities have been in care homes.

That is one area where state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is prepared to admit failures. Otherwise, when we meet at the end of one of his daily press briefings, he confidently sticks to his guns.

I ask him what he says to critics who accuse him of running a high risk strategy.

"We're definitely not gambling with lives," he tells me. "We're trying to do the best we can with the knowledge we have. And so far if you look at the projections done by a number of modelers, the Swedish model has worked a lot better than people would have believed.

"They said that the Swedish healthcare would collapse already a month ago. It did not. It keeps on working."

  • 'We're talking about human lives, not just numbers': Infectious disease expert criticises Swedish government's handling of coronavirus

He says Sweden has a "tradition" of giving its citizens the information they need to make the right decisions.

"It works very much with giving the individual a lot of responsibility, giving them information to understand and know what needs to be done and then let themselves decide on what to do in detail," he said.

"We believe it works a lot better than giving exact, strict laws on how to do it."

Crucially, he believes that Sweden can sustain its version of this "new normal" for a long time; whereas those countries who have imposed tough lockdowns will have to end them sooner rather than later. And when they do, the coronavirus caseloads will spiral back out of control.

But there's a band of high-powered scientific critics who say the Swedish authorities have made a fatal misjudgment.

Dr Stefan Hanson, an expert in infectious disease, is one of 22 academics who wrote to the press lambasting the "officials without talent" in charge of policy.

He said: "I see the infection spreading. There's no doubt. And we're talking about human life, not just numbers. A lot of grandmothers and grandfathers have died and we think that should not have been necessary."

Carina McLane and her British husband moved back to Sweden, and they believe the Swedish government's handling of the virus is the right way to handle the situation. Credit: ITV News

Sweden is not out of the woods. Over the weeks, the government closed five bars and restaurants for failing to impose the familiar two-metre distancing rule. There are worries that in the warm weather to come, many more will ignore safe distancing.

Carina McLane and her British husband, Mally, moved back to Sweden. And like so many of their friends in the UK, they've been furloughed from their jobs.

We meet them as they pick up their children from school. Primary-aged kids still have lessons to go to.

Mally has no doubt where he'd rather face Covid-19.

"Sweden is the better country to be in for the coronavirus crisis because life is going on pretty much as normal.

"It makes existing as a family and getting through this crisis just a little bit easier than it would be otherwise."

If Sweden's approach to the coronavirus pandemic is judged a success, the country will offer not just a glimpse of better times past, but a vision of a brighter future.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know