A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors Trending News & More

A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors
Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell.


  • Sweden decided not to implement a full-scale lockdown throughout the pandemic.
  • It now has up to 10 times as many COVID-19 deaths per capita as its Nordic neighbors.
  • Sweden additionally did not fare significantly better economically, suggesting its gamble did not repay.

Months earlier than the primary COVID-19 instances have been detected, public-health specialists ranked Sweden as probably the most ready international locations to deal with a pandemic. But in March 2020, Swedish well being authorities stunned the world with their unorthodox method: Rather than locking down and requiring masks, as many international locations did, Sweden let residents determine individually whether or not to take these precautions.

The gamble, Swedish authorities predicted, would repay in the long term. Ideally, weak folks would select to keep residence, the financial system would not undergo an excessive amount of, and wholesome folks may get gentle COVID-19 instances that in the end contributed to the inhabitants’s collective immunity.

But a year and a half into the pandemic, it is clear that guess was improper.

Sweden has recorded extra COVID-19 instances per capita than most international locations up to now: Since the beginning of the pandemic, roughly 11 out of each 100 folks in Sweden have been identified with COVID-19, in contrast with 9.4 out of each 100 within the UK and 7.4 per 100 in Italy. Sweden has additionally recorded round 145 COVID-19 deaths for each 100,000 folks – round three times extra than Denmark, eight times extra than Finland, and practically 10 times extra than Norway.

Had Sweden carried out tighter guidelines, specialists informed Insider, the nation might need seen a COVID-19 death toll extra comparable to these Nordic neighbors.

“They underestimated the mortality tremendously,” Claudia Hanson, an affiliate professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, informed Insider.

“Sweden became a dream for many people to think one can do it differently,” Hanson added. But looking back, she mentioned, “it was maybe not a good idea.”

Sweden’s method: permit residents to transfer freely

A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors
Students eat ice-cream in Stockholm, Sweden on August 21, 2020.

Martin von Krogh/Getty Images

Life did not look a lot completely different in Sweden final year: As coronavirus instances tore throughout the nation, residents went to bars, attended faculty in particular person, and walked round maskless.

Many illness specialists warned that the lax method would end in pointless death. But Anders Tegnell, the chief architect of Sweden’s coronavirus technique, was cautious of depriving residents of revenue or private freedom.

“You can’t open and close schools. That is going to be a disaster,” he informed the Financial Times in September. “And you probably can’t open and close restaurants and stuff like that either too many times. Once or twice, yes, but then people will get very tired and businesses will probably suffer more than if you close them down completely.”

Tegnell in contrast lockdowns to “using a hammer to kill a fly.”

So Sweden grew to become one of many few European nations that did not implement a full-scale lockdown. Its inhabitants mobility from March to May of final year went down the least out of 28 international locations examined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Public transport and leisure actions dropped simply 22% throughout that point, in contrast with 66% in Spain (the nation that noticed the very best discount in mobility).

Masks weren’t required, both. A current evaluation from Arash Heydarian Pashakhanlou, an affiliate professor on the Swedish Defence University, discovered that Sweden’s Public Health Agency decided towards a masks mandate even when burgeoning proof supported it – and lengthy after the scientific group had overwhelming inspired the observe.

Sweden did, nonetheless, nonetheless take some precautions: It closed excessive faculties and universities within the spring of 2020, required social distancing in bars and eating places, and requested the sick and aged to keep residence. Public gatherings have been additionally restricted in dimension to various levels over the course of the pandemic.

Sweden’s technique would ‘probably end in a bloodbath’ in a completely different nation

A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors
An out of doors restaurant in Stockholm on March 26, 2020.

TT News Agency/Janerik Henriksson through REUTERS

When Sweden opted for a no-lockdown technique in March 2020, scientists have been nonetheless finding out how lethal and contagious the virus was. But already, in accordance to e-mail exchanges revealed by freelance journalist Emanuel Karlsten and the Swedish newspaper Expressen, Tegnell was contemplating permitting the virus to infect younger, wholesome folks as a means of accelerating immunity within the inhabitants.

Hanson mentioned she was “absolutely disgusted” by Tegnell’s method as a result of it presumed information that scientists did not have on the time.

“Is he God, or even above?” she mentioned. “That’s what was terrible with the Swedish approach: the supremacy.”

In a paper revealed in September 2020, philosophers Mirko Farina and Andrea Lavazza argued that many lives might have been saved if Swedish well being authorities had adopted the technique of their Nordic neighbors.

“On paper they’re all good scientists, but de facto in practice, most of them end up missing some basic human values,” Farina informed Insider.

Their paper additionally argued that Sweden’s low density and small inhabitants – mixed with residents’ belief in nationwide authorities – probably prevented a deadlier end result. If a denser, extra populous nation like Italy have been to undertake Sweden’s technique, they wrote, it might “likely result in a massacre.”

Sweden did not fare significantly better economically than its neighbors

A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors
Store supervisor Domenica Gerlach works within the Lifvs unmanned grocery store retailer in Veckholm, a village of a few hundred folks, on May 6, 2021.

Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Farina mentioned one good thing about Sweden’s method, nonetheless, could have been much less stress, anxiousness, or despair amongst its residents.

The newest World Happiness Report confirmed that Sweden remained one of many happiest international locations on the planet in 2020, primarily based on how residents rated their high quality of life and reported experiencing constructive or unfavourable feelings. But the report additionally discovered that prioritizing an open financial system wasn’t conducive to total happiness.

“Driving community transmission to zero and keeping it there has been better for all the pillars supporting happy lives: good health, good jobs, and a society where people can connect easily with each other in mutual trust and support,” the authors wrote.

Plus, Sweden’s financial system nonetheless shrank 8.6% from April to June of final year – its largest quarterly fall in no less than 40 years. By comparability, Denmark’s financial system shrank 7.4% throughout that point, Norway’s 5.1%, and Finland’s simply 3.2%. (None of those economies shrank by extra than 4% over the course of 2020, although.)

Sweden’s unemployment rate additionally rose from 6.6% in March 2020 to 9.5% in March 2021. Norway, Denmark, and Finland all noticed unemployment rise by smaller margins: round one proportion level, on common.

“We live in highly interrelated world,” Farina mentioned. “If something major strikes, it’s going to be affecting everyone everywhere, irrespective of the national measures that you take.”

Swedish scientists lamented their nation’s method

A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors
A resident at a nursing residence in Gothenburg, Sweden will get a COVID-19 vaccine on January 7, 2021.

Fredrik Lerneryd/Getty Images

Scientists referred to as for adjustments to Sweden’s technique as early as April 2020. In an open letter that month, extra than 2,000 specialists criticized the federal government’s choice not to lock down. Two months later, 23 Swedish docs and researchers publicly questioned the nation’s laissez-faire masks coverage.

Eventually, after Sweden’s every day COVID-19 instances, hospitalizations, and death skyrocketed from October to December, the nation closed non-essential public areas, similar to gyms, swimming pools and libraries, and advocate masks throughout rush hour on public transport.

“Countries that had mandatory restrictions have done better than us,” Lars Calmfors, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, informed the Wall Street Journal in December.

“We like to think of ourselves as being very rational and pragmatic,” he added. “I can’t recognize my country anymore.”

Hanson, too, lamented the truth that Swedish authorities failed to course-correct sooner.

“Some people saw this tsunami coming,” she mentioned. “So why didn’t we run?”

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