Sweden’s per-capita case counts and death rates have been many times higher than any of its Nordic neighbors, all of which imposed lockdowns, travel bans, and limited gatherings early on. Over all in Sweden, thirteen thousand people have died from covid-19. In Norway, which has a population that is half the size of Sweden’s, and where stricter lockdowns were enforced, about seven hundred people have died. It’s likely that some simple policy changes—especially shutting down visitations to nursing homes sooner, and providing more P.P.E. and testing to nursing-home staff—would have saved lives. And the strategy doesn’t seem to have helped the economy much: the Swedish G.D.P. fell by around three per cent, better than the European average, but similar to the drop in other Nordic countries.
Fredrik Elgh, a virologist at Umeå University and one of [head epidemiologist, Anders] Tegnell’s former bosses, wishes that Sweden had implemented restrictions like those used by other countries in the region. “Why don’t they go the same route as our neighbors that have been so successful?” he said. “We could have done that, too, if we had followed their path.” The fatalities in the elder homes, which account for about fifty per cent of the covid-19 deaths in Sweden, seem especially needless; if visits to these facilities had been banned sooner, if their workers had been advised to wear masks and get tested frequently, it’s possible that thousands of lives could have been saved. People from both pro- and anti-Tegnell camps believe that this was an unnecessary tragedy. (Tegnell agrees, although he does not think that the responsibility lies solely with the health agency.) “The Swedish strategy aimed at protecting the elderly has failed,” Mats Melin, the country’s former chief justice and the current head of the government-appointed Corona Commission, told me. In December, Sweden’s King, Carl XVI Gustaf, criticized the country’s policies, telling the state broadcaster, “The Swedish people have suffered enormously in difficult conditions,” and adding that, when it came to the strategy that the country employed, “I think we have failed.” Stefan Lofven, the country’s Prime Minister, told reporters, “The fact that so many people have died cannot be seen as anything else than a failure.” [Continue reading…]