Sweden’s approach to tackling the coronavirus has drawn plenty of attention from around the world – and like other European nations, the country appears to be paying a heavy price for its response to the pandemic.
Rather than declaring a full lockdown, Sweden has adopted a mix of legislation and recommendations in response to the virus that international media has widely labelled a relatively soft policy.
Sweden has registered more than 3,740 coronavirus-linked deaths – a toll far lower than many large EU countries but about five times higher than Denmark and more than 10 times that of its other Nordic neighbours.
While there are countries that have fared far worse, Sweden’s death toll per million people has been the worst in the world over the past week.
According to data compiled by the Financial Times, Sweden had the highest number of coronavirus deaths per capita for the past week, based on a seven-day rolling average of new deaths (per million) from May 12 to 19.
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and Health Economist at Harvard University says it puts Sweden in unflattering territory.
📌 SWEDEN TOPS THE WORLD now in daily deaths per capita. Just in case that wasn’t clear before. Here is the matching graph from FT.— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) May 18, 2020
➡️The much talked about “Swedish approach” has now led to the worst #COVID19 country death outcome to date. https://t.co/mumwmTiWFm pic.twitter.com/3y6lN6tjjw
While other hard-hit countries have dipped below Sweden since the worst of the virus outbreak, the reading shows Sweden has not squashed the coronavirus curve to the same degree.
When looking at the numbers in totality, Sweden has registered 30,143 coronavirus cases and 3,679 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. That’s a mortality rate of 36.13 per 100,000. Which is less than half of Belgium at 78.8 per 100,000.
Sweden suffers high death rate and low GDP
While Sweden took a somewhat less strict approach than most countries, it has suffered an almost identical drop in GDP when compared to other nordic countries, so has been unable to stave off the economic destruction of the virus either.
As a number of leaders in hard-hit countries have sought to remind the public, comparisons between countries and ‘report cards’ on coronavirus response will largely have to wait until the pandemic has passed to get the full picture.
The Swedish Prime Minister late last week said impressions conveyed abroad that Sweden has adopted a "business as usual" approach to the coronavirus are wrong.
While social distancing wasn’t mandated by the government, it was advised and recommended and public activity still reduced significantly, according to mobile data, albeit slightly less than most countries.
Sweden had some early blunders that led to outbreak in nursing homes, however Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has rejected the notion that Sweden has carried on as normal.
“The image that Sweden is doing so totally different than other countries. That's not the case,” he said last week.
Swedish coronavirus rules built on trust
The Swedish model for managing society was built on trust between officials and citizens who had "a responsibility to do the right thing," he told a briefing with foreign media.
"Life is not carrying on as normal in Sweden. It is not business as usual."
The government has banned large gatherings, high schools and universities are closed and authorities recommend social distancing, protecting the elderly, working from home and staying at home if unwell.
Elementary schools however remain open, people have not been obliged to stay indoors and can meet in small groups, and stores have not been forced to close.
Sweden, whose population is about twice that of other Nordic countries, had no plans to ease its coronavirus regime, Mr Lofven said.
While there was "no one-size-fits-all response" to the pandemic, he said better co-operation was needed as countries started to ease lockdown curbs.
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