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COVID-19 in the Nordics: Different strategies and common efforts

Border Sweden and Norway

The Nordic countries have handled the COVID-19 pandemic differently in many aspects and learning from each other would hopefully benefit our preparedness for another pandemic.

As previously reported, given the similarity of the Nordic societies, it is interesting to note how differently some of them have reacted to the current COVID-19 crisis. For example there has been major differences when it comes to for example testing and lockdowns.

Johan Strang, Associate Professor at the Centre for Nordic Studies, the University of Helsinki, wrote for example that the diverse reactions have disclosed the different ways each country is run, particularly with respect to the relationship between government and administrative authorities, as well as to the concerns over the fragility of the democratic system as a whole. These differences are often rooted in historical traditions and experiences.

NordForsk’s mission

The task of NordForsk, an organization under the Nordic Council of Ministers, is to facilitate research collaboration in the Nordic region, and within life sciences this is perhaps now more important than ever. It has for example taken the initiative to organize joint Nordic research to study and compare how the crisis has been handled across the Nordics.

“The five Nordic countries have chosen different strategies to handle the same crisis. There are however many similarities at the practical level. Nevertheless, the differences are big enough to make comparisons between countries and responses.”

“COVID-19 is probably the biggest crisis to affect our part of the world since World War Two. Severe measures affecting all sectors of society have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus in order to save lives and avoid collapse in the health care systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has, and will for a long time have, severe impact on our lives and societies,” says Arne Flåøyen, Director, NordForsk to Nordic Life Science. “The early responses to COVID-19 have shown that our societies were not well prepared although we have been warned about a pandemic for years. The five Nordic countries have chosen different strategies to handle the same crisis. There are however many similarities at the practical level. Nevertheless, the differences are big enough to make comparisons between countries and responses.”

Making closing of the borders superfluous

Arne Flåøyen also thinks that it is important to look closer at how the Nordic countries could collaborate more within societal security, such as establishing common storage of equipment, expert networks and having joint response teams.

“The closing of the borders between the Nordic countries has affected our societies and the citizens of the Nordics severely. I hope we can develop mechanisms and ways to collaborate that makes closing of the borders between the Nordic countries superfluous,” he says.

Using already existing health data

Apart from this initiative NordForsk, together with research funders from all Nordic countries and Estonia and Latvia, has invested some 55 million NOK and opened a call for proposals for COVID-19 research. The projects must have partners from at least three Nordic counties, or two Nordic countries and one of the Baltic countries.

“The project should utilize already existing health data in order to generate new knowledge that could help battle and understand the pandemic,” explains Flåøyen.

Read more: Nordic projects to develop new knowledge about COVID-19

An overarching Nordic life science approach

Flåøyen also says that there is a willingness both at the political and the professional level to establish strong collaboration between the health care system, academia and industry.

“An overarching Nordic life science approach would secure a larger population within small therapeutic areas as well as accumulation of knowledge.”

“These initiatives are ongoing at national levels, but as the Nordic countries are culturally alike and have similar views on health care, an overarching Nordic life science approach would secure a larger population within small therapeutic areas as well as accumulation of knowledge.”

Photo of the border between Sweden and Norway: Karin Beate Nøsterud/norden.org


Read the full interview with Arne Flåøyen, Director of NordForsk, in our upcoming issue of the magazine (out September 10th 2020). Sign up for a subscription here!