Unlike many Scandinavian countries, Sweden decided not to close its borders, and hasn’t restricted its population during the COVID epidemic. As other countries finally begin to slowly re-open, their policies more closely resemble what the nordic state has been doing all along.
Sweden has notably refused to lock down from the beginning, with restaurants and bars remaining open. President Donald Trump remarked that “Sweden did that, the herd, they call it the [herd immunity]. Sweden’s suffering very, very badly.”
What is it that drove Sweden’s approach? Was it the right move? Let’s examine the facts.
Why Sweden Decided Not to Shut Down
Economic collapse has been looming towards many countries, including America. Many have argued that the economic blow of COVID-19 could be more significant than health-related issues caused by the virus. Nevertheless, the president and the governors of the United States have hesitated to open the country and to alleviate the lockdown out of fear that the economic concerns could get much worse.
But, Sweden is not the United States. Sweden has a culture that is highly based on personal responsibility. Rather than creating a lockdown, Sweden has trusted its population to react appropriately. That means sanitizing everything inside of its businesses, wearing masks, and socially distancing as they carry out their day-to-day lives.
There are obvious benefits to this approach. Sweden’s citizens are able to choose whether they realistically want to work, and whether their businesses are safe enough to keep open. Of course, to say Sweden weathered the storm perfectly simply isn’t accurate either.
The Consequences of Not Shutting Down
With schools, businesses, bars, and restaurants still open, how is Sweden doing? According to Sweden, it’s doing quite well. But the death tolls are higher than the surrounding countries. Sweden’s death rate is at 22 out of 100,000 people, compared to Denmark’s death rate of 7 out of 100,000 people. Norway and Finland both have rates of 4 out of 100,000 people — spectacularly low.
Sweden can argue that these deaths only happened faster in their culture, and that the same amount of people would have died if the disaster had been prolonged. It’s impossible to know. If Sweden’s death rate evens out and dissipates and the death rates in Denmark, Norway, and Finland continue to grow, the Swedes may have a point.
It may be that the same amount of people will get sick (and the same amount will die) regardless, as long as the healthcare system is not taxed to the point of being beyond capacity. And compared to many other countries, its death rate is low; Italy’s death rate was at 45 per 100,000 people and Spain’s death rate was at 51 per 100,000 people at their peaks.
Looking at the Numbers
Ultimately, the numbers aren’t good for Sweden, and the countries that are on lockdown (Denmark, Norway, and Finland) are thus far doing much better. This validates the statements by the government and the White House that lockdown in some capacity is important for a survivable pandemic.
Sweden’s experiment in not closing its economy is one of trusting its citizens to take the correct action. In many ways, it falls naturally from having an educated, responsible, and motivated populace. It is simply too early to tell if a U.S.-style shutdown would have been better — but one thing is clear: the country wasn’t devastated in the way many predicted.