Sweden is being hailed by many as a success story in combating Covid-19, a claim that I felt was worth investigating.
Much of the hailing that I have heard is from radio discussion programming including the BBC and LBC, both being regular travel companions.
People calling into programmes frequently cite Sweden’s Covid-19 strategy as an example of what the UK should have done, and warranting further investigation, so I have. If Sweden has discovered a strategy that is more effective than the UK’s it needs reporting.
The measurement of ‘results’ to compare both nations needs to be set into two main categories, health and economics. The process also needs to allow against limitations, both countries are different in many ways. Economically the UK for example is far more dependent on tourism than Sweden, and tourism is globally the sector most negatively impacted economically from Covid-19.
Let’s first look at strategies to combat Covid-19. The UK imposed a national lockdown on 23 March 2020 and Sweden has not imposed any ‘comprehensive’ lockdown, instead it requested one was followed. Sweden did ban gatherings of more than 50 people and then relied on people to follow guidelines.
Currently while many European nations are reporting increases in cases of Covid-19, Sweden has one of the lowest transmission rates.
Of 31 European nations surveyed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control 22 now have higher infection rates than Sweden.
The ‘voluntary’ lockdown in Sweden however when compared with compulsory lockdowns in neighbouring Denmark and Norway wasn’t nearly as effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19. So, should we be looking at Norway and Denmark for answers? Maybe not as Sweden currently has lower new daily infections than Norway and Denmark.
The engineer of Sweden’s no-lockdown strategy is Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist, an advocate of herd immunity. The government here were also reportedly advocates but negative press coverage soon had that tactic dismissed. The outcomes currently from antibody surveys suggest circa 20% of people in Stockholm have been infected, similar to levels in London and New York. Far short of the 70% estimated to be needed by proponents of herd immunity.
Any proposals by UK government to follow herd immunity would now seem a 180 degree turn and as such extremely unlikely. Beyond Sweden’s herd immunity ‘intentions’, no case study data supports it beyond being part of the natural evolution process in eliminating viruses.
In August Sweden was seeing circa 8,200 positive cases per million compared to 1,780 in Norway, 2,560 in Denmark and 4,600 in the UK. Also in August Sweden’s rate of deaths per 100,000 people was 57, compared to Norway where it was 5, Denmark 11, and 70 in the UK.
The death toll per million inhabitants in Sweden is over 5 times that of Denmark’s and over 11 times that of Norway and Finland. But lower than some countries that imposed lockdowns, such as the UK, Spain and Italy, but not all. Denmark introduced a lockdown through law on 11 March, one of the first in Europe.
The International Monetary Fund has reported that Sweden experienced a small increase in GDP for the first quarter of 2020, contrary to almost all other advanced economies. In the UK it fell by 2.2%.
GDP for the second quarter of 2020 in Sweden fell by 8.6 per cent, 3.3% less than the average of 11.9 per cent for Europe collectively. The UK’s fall in GDP for the second quarter of 2020 was 20.4%.
Two countries that did impose lockdown that faired better by GDP decline are the Czech Republic with 8.4% and Lithuania with 5.1%. Both had lower GDP than Sweden pre-Covid, so that could be a factor, but then Sweden’s was much lower than the UK’s.
As you try and delve further into economic comparisons the old adage apples and pears seems to become appropriate. If you feel so inclined here is a very comprehensive starting point.
As GDP is possibly the broadest possible barometer of a nation’s economy it does seem that Sweden is doing remarkably well. The GDP of all European nations can be seen here.
The economic aspects of comparison are similar to heath, mixed and often without context as numbers alone don’t always tell a full story.
In researching this article one source which I found particularly balanced and helpful was New Scientist. If you enjoy taking different viewpoints into consideration, there is much worth considering related to Covid-19 there.
Conclusion: With such a broad comparison it is difficult to derive an outcome that then isn’t justifiably subjected to questioning of the apples and pears variety. That said, the broadest comparisons of deaths per 100,000 people and GDP, do seem to justify looking at Sweden’s strategy in combating Covid-19 and their outcomes closely. Always being willing to learn also helps, and I hope government departments tasked with active Covid-19 combat duty look far more closely than I have.
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