“I think we have failed,” King Gustaf said, during an unusually candid interview with state broadcaster SVT, excerpts from which were released on Thursday. “We have a large number who have died and that is terrible. It is something we all have to suffer with,” he lamented, adding that the entire nation has had a “terrible year.”

The king said he was saddened by the deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the “difficult conditions the Swedish people have suffered.”

“You think of all the people who have been unable to say farewell to their deceased family members. I think it is a heavy and traumatic experience not to be able to say a warm goodbye,” he said.

The monarch’s frank comments surprised the public, with Johan T. Lindwall, editor-in-chief of the publication Svensk Damtidning saying it was “exceptional and unusual” for the king to have launched such a public critique of the government.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sweden has imposed few restrictions and opted to pursue a ‘herd immunity’ strategy, sparking debate both at home and in the international community. Most notably, as many other European countries went into strict lockdowns in the spring, Sweden remained open.

Almost eight months later, the country has seen nearly 8,000 deaths from the virus, according to the latest data from its public health agency. This number is almost 10 times higher than the figures registered in neighboring Norway and Finland combined.

However, the Swedes’ laissez-faire pandemic tactics, and whether they are responsible for the number of fatalities, are still being hotly debated. European countries that did impose strict lockdowns, such as the UK and Belgium, still experienced much higher numbers of deaths per capita.