Assessing Sweden’s response to the coronavirus

4 mins read


Some are touting Sweden as a success story, relatively speaking, when it comes to dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus. For example, this story in the British press claims that “Sweden got the last laugh on coronavirus.”

Unfortunately, Sweden’s high number of per capita fatalities attributed to the virus is no laughing matter. Per capita fatalities number 578 per one million people. That’s comparable to the U.S., the UK, and Italy, but far higher than Norway (49) and Denmark (109). Comparisons to Sweden’s neighbor seem more apt than comparisons to more distant European nations and, certainly, to the U.S.

Sweden’s response is being touted based on the fact that there has been no second wave of the virus. As I discussed yesterday, many European nations are experiencing a second wave to one degree or another.

But the absence of a second wave by itself doesn’t take the defense of Sweden very far. New York hasn’t experienced a second wave, either. Sweden’s defenders aren’t likely to view New York as a success story.

The thing to keep in mind about European second waves is that, so far, they haven’t been deadly. Yes, infections are up in Norway. In July, there were virtually no new reported cases there. Lately, Norway is reporting between 100-160 new cases per day, about half the number of the March peak.

However, the number of daily deaths attributed to the virus remains negligible, even though the second wave began more than a month ago. I assume that Norway will begin to see some coronavirus-related deaths, but there’s no reason to believe the number will consistently exceed the 10 per day Norway was experiencing in April. During Sweden’s peak, it was reporting an average of about 90 deaths per day attributable to the virus.

Denmark’s second wave has been more dramatic than Norway’s. Reported new cases have reached their early April peak of 300-400 (although this, I assume, is partly a function of more testing). However, there is no uptick in the number of deaths attributed to the virus per day in Denmark. That number holds steady at about one per day, even though the spike in reported cases occurred more than a month ago.

From a public health perspective, then, Sweden is not entitled to the last laugh at this point.

But public health is only part of the public policy equation. What about Sweden’s economy?

Initial reports projected a contraction of 6 percent. Now, the projection is for 4.6. That’s better than the EU average of 8 percent. However, it is roughly in line, reportedly, with projections for Sweden’s Nordic neighbors (which I find a bit hard to believe, unless “roughly” is doing a lot of work).

If these health and economic numbers are roughly accurate and don’t change materially, it will be difficult to view Sweden as a coronvirus virus success story in comparison to neighboring countries that took a more stringent approach to dealing with the pandemic.



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