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Sun 12 July 2020
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As it competes with the UK for COVID-19 fatalities, James Melville considers the catastrophic failures of Sweden compared to its neighbours.

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Sweden has now overtaken the UK, Italy and Belgium to have the highest Coronavirus per capita death rate in the world. In the rolling seven-day average Sweden has 10 times the number of COVID-19 related deaths than its Nordic neighbours, Norway and Finland. Like the UK in the early days of the pandemic, Sweden was one of the only two countries in the world who promoted the notion of ‘herd immunity’ — a public health policy that has never been attempted in a pandemic in the absence of a vaccine.

As of 20 May 20, Sweden has 31,523 Coronavirus cases and 3,831 deaths; Norway 8.281 cases and 234 deaths; and Finland 6.443 cases and 304 deaths. 

Sweden adopted a laissez faire approach to the pandemic. The Swedish Government left schools, restaurants, and gyms open and, while it banned gatherings of more than 50 people and urged elderly and at risk residents to self-isolate, society in Sweden has remained largely unchanged. 

Sweden’s Government advocated working from home if at all possible and to avoid non-essential travel. Meanwhile, restaurants, bars and cafes remained open but offered table service only. Swedish schools for under 16s have remained open. Generally, society in Sweden has carried on as before, and businesses have remained open.

Sweden’s strategy was designed to bring down the COVID-19 curve so that its health system was not overwhelmed and also allowed the economy to not be savagely affected.

Sweden’s lack of strict lockdown contrasts sharply with the rest of Europe, and it has yet to see a downturn in COVID-19 cases.


The country — which has a population of about 10.2 million — has seen 31,523 cases and 3,831 deaths from the virus so far, making the death rate per capita at 37 deaths per 100,000 people. According to Our World In Data, more Swedes died in April than any one month since 1993.

The Swedish Public Healthy Agency has said that almost half of the deaths seen in the country have been in the nation’s care homes.

Sweden’s Nordic neighbours, Norway and Finland, have approached the virus differently, and have recorded just a fraction of COVID-19-related deaths compared to Sweden.

Norway went into lockdown in mid-March, closing businesses, schools, restaurants, cultural events, gyms, and tourist attractions. It also closed it’s border and banned international travellers. 

Finland, which has been stockpiling medical supplies since the Cold War, restricted border movement, banned gatherings of 10 or more people and closed schools as part of its Coronavirus response. Norway, which has nearly 5.4 million people, has seen 8,281 cases and 234 deaths, with a death rate per capita at 3.37 deaths per 100,000 people. 

Finland, with a population of 5.5 million, has seen 6,443 COVID-19 cases and 304 deaths, with a death rate per capita at 2.56 deaths per 100,000 people.

While Sweden has had significantly more COVID-19 deaths than Finland and Norway, Sweden’s strategy might lesson the impact to its economy compared to its Scandinavian neighbours because businesses were able to remain open. But, in recent days, as the death toll has fallen in other European countries such as Spain, Italy, France and the UK, Sweden’s has remained stubbornly high.

It might ultimately pay the price of trying to maintain their freedoms in the short term that reduces their freedoms in the long-term. 


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