There was a familiar refrain from political commentators on certain corners of the internet in the early days of the pandemic – a three-word slogan in the vein of ‘Get Brexit Done’ that popped up wherever people felt the government’s lockdown plans impinged on their rights: what about Sweden?
The Nordic country was used as an example of why closing down society in the way that most other European countries have done was unnecessary. Even now, restaurants and bars in Stockholm remain open, children are still going to school, and people are only advised to stay at home if they feel ill – rather than whole households being put into self-isolation if one person has symptoms.
Life hasn’t exactly carried on as normal – mobility data shows big drops in the number of people moving around, particularly over the Easter weekend when Swedes traditionally travel around the country, and many private companies have their employees working from home. But there’s been more of an emphasis on letting the public use their own judgement rather than enforcing rules from above. “Sweden has pioneered an alternative to lockdown – and it works,” read a headline in The Spectator just last week.
Some argued that Sweden was a unique case because of its demographics, or because of the fact that more people live in single-person households, and multi-generational family units are less common than they are in countries like Italy. In hindsight, however, it’s clear that Sweden is not a special case – and it never was.
More than 4,000 people have died in a country of ten million. For seven of the last 14 days, Sweden has had the highest number of deaths per capita in the world. “Sweden hasn’t changed very much at all,” says Paul Franks, an epidemiologist at Lund University. “But because things have changed in other countries, you’ve noticed the change in the relative death rates.” The comparison is particularly stark when compared to Sweden’s neighbours, which have similar cultural practices and healthcare systems – it has almost four times as many deaths as Norway, Finland and Denmark combined. [Continue reading…]