Confidence in Swedish authorities dips amid mounting pandemic death toll, polls show

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedes' confidence in the ability of the government and the health agency to handle the outbreak of the novel coronavirus is falling amid growing worries about the high mortality rate, polls published on Thursday showed.

Sweden's decision not to adopt a lockdown as in many other European countries was widely supported by the population, but criticism has been growing in recent weeks over the country's high death rate from COVID-19 when compared to its Nordic neighbours, especially among the elderly.

The proportion of those with high or reasonably high trust in the government's ability to deal with the virus outbreak dipped to 45% in June, compared to 63% in April, a Novus survey for SVT public service television showed.

Figures for Sweden's Public Health Agency, which has led the campaign for social distancing and hygiene measures, also fell in the survey, to 65% from 73%.

In a separate survey by Demoskop in daily Aftonbladet, the number of those with high or reasonably high confidence in public authorities' actions in relation to the pandemic fell to 55% from 65% in April.

"Given the fact that Swedish mortality figures stick out in an international comparison, it is striking that confidence levels in Sweden remain so high," said Peter Santesson, analyst at Demoskop. "It shows the high level of trust in public authorities that exists in Sweden."

While much of Europe went into lockdown at the start of the outbreak, Sweden has relied mainly on milder, voluntary measures to slow the spread, softening the blow to the economy. Yet the death toll of more than 4,500 people in Sweden is many times higher than that of Norway, Denmark and Finland combined. puts Sweden's COVID-19 mortality rate at 443 deaths per million people, and said its rate was the highest in Europe for parts of May. Denmark had around 100 deaths per million, Norway 44 deaths and Finland 58.

On Wednesday, Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell at the Public Health Agency defended Sweden's overall strategy, but said it could have done more to combat the virus.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard)