Sweden’s approach to the pandemic is different from most other countries—is it working?

  • Sweden has left many businesses and schools open
  • The country’s coronavirus cases outnumber those in stricter countries
  • It has higher infection and death rates, but a stronger economic position

Sweden is taking a relatively lax approach to dealing with COVID-19, prompting observers to wonder if the country has it right. 

While many countries are all but completely locked down, Sweden is operating at a more normal level. The country has kept many of its businesses and schools open, but its casual approach appears to be taking a toll. Looser restrictions have raised the number of infection rates, but it’s also allowed the economy to remain far stronger than in other countries. Researchers have criticized the country’s coronavirus strategy, saying that Sweden’s claims that rates are leveling out are false.

As of April 24, Sweden had about 16,700 confirmed cases and 2,152 deaths. The actual number of cases and COVID-19-related deaths are likely far higher. The country’s first confirmed case was on Feb. 4. Initially, the country’s number of infections remained rather low, but it began rising rapidly at the beginning of March.

Sweden’s death rate is currently 118 per 1 million inhabitants, via the Guardian. The already high number looks particularly shocking when compared to its neighbors: Finland’s death rate is 13 per 1 million inhabitants and Demark’s is similarly low at 55. Both countries reacted to news of the virus with prompt, strict lockdowns.

Sweden’s restrictions were set down not by the government, but rather the Swedish CDC, according to Swedish reporter Sanna Björling. She told NPR that while high schools and colleges are closed, elementary schools and middle schools remain open. Bars and restaurants have shifted the way they serve customers, but many continue to function as they did before the pandemic. Concerts, sporting events, and other large-scale gatherings have been canceled, and gatherings of less than 50 people are discouraged. 

Many of these guidelines mimic those set in place by other governments. Sweden’s far more lenient approach, however, sets it apart. Despite continuously climbing infection numbers, most Swedes appear to support their government’s approach. Speculation persists that the Swedish government hopes to build herd immunity, but the government has denied those claims. 

On April 21, the Swedish government estimated that one-third of its residents could be infected with the coronavirus by May 1, though almost immediately, that report was withdrawn after an error in the information was reportedly discovered.

By May 20, Sweden had the highest per capita death rate in the world for a one-week period earlier in the month, according to the Telegraph.

On June 2, the country’s top epidemiologist said his plan of action had been wrong. “If we were to encounter the same illness with the same knowledge that we have today, I think our response would land somewhere in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Anders Tegnell said, via Bloomberg.

Sources: NPR, Statistica, The Guardian, Washington Times, Forbes, Johns Hopkins

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