As We Mull Leaving Lockdown, Is Sweden Model the Way Forward?

As We Mull Leaving Lockdown, Is Sweden Model the Way Forward? By Christina Ramirez for Real Clear Politics

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In most countries in Europe and North America, governments have imposed lockdowns of their populations and economies. At first glance, this strategy would seem to strike a reasonable, if painful, bargain: pay the price of (hopefully temporary) limits on civil liberties and economic recession (if not depression) to slow virus spread. The price has been very high. In the U.S. alone, the bill has already reached trillions of dollars of lost economic activity and tens of millions out of work. The material pain may go beyond economic insecurity. Many Americans face the real prospect of food shortages.

Sweden, however, has forged its own path. The government is emphasizing voluntary action over government mandates. Elementary schools and businesses, including bars, cafés, restaurants and gyms, are open. The government has urged people to act responsibly and follow social distancing guidelines.

Stockholm has reasoned that COVID-19 will require sustained interventions, even under optimistic timelines for the development of a vaccine. If true, the economic hardship and sacrifices to civil liberties involved in long-term societal shutdowns would become unjustifiable. So, the Swedish Public Health Authority has elected to pursue what it regards as a feasible goal of slowing the spread to prevent the overwhelming of its health care system while protecting the most vulnerable populations.

Commentators in the media have accused the Swedes of pursuing a “risky coronavirus virus strategy” or of “Russian roulette-style COVID strategy” that has caused an alarming acceleration of the pandemic, triggering a “death spike” leading to “10 times the number of deaths than its Nordic neighbors” have seen.

These commentaries seem to extrapolate too much from a narrow view of the data coming out of Sweden or are under the false impression that Sweden is not socially distancing and simply allowing the disease to spread. In fact, recent reports claiming an acceleration in COVID deaths in Sweden appear to be based on misconstruing the data at hand and narrow comparisons to other countries.

The Swedish Public Health Agency (SPHA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have been reporting different daily COVID-19 death counts in Sweden. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare also releases COVID-19 death statistics. Although the cases reported by the SPHA and SNBHW show daily deaths on a decreasing trend, the data from the ECDC shows large swings in the death rate (Figure 1).

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