Sweden, typically a poster child for healthy living, has been forced to defend its coronavirus strategy as the state finally begins to see the curve flatten. The fact that Sweden — a state that was rated 8.5 for healthy by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) —failed to control the disease for so long even as its neighbors managed to succeed gives reason to question the Swedish strategy, which was unconventional from the beginning.

Voluntary Measures

From the onset, Stockholm decided not to lockdown, a decision it maintained through the worst of the crisis in April. The Swedish strategy essentially boiled down to trusting its residents to do the right thing. Social distancing has been voluntary and the only hard rule issued by the government is a prohibition of gatherings with more than 50 people, BBC News reported.

Although the government did not explicitly declare herd immunity a goal, some health experts suggested Sweden could be a test bed for the theory. However, others have argued against such an approach and most agreed that for it to work properly, an average 60-85% of a state’s population would need to be infected, according to the New York Times.

Furthermore, vulnerable demographics such as the elderly are unlikely to mingle in public as frequently as a healthy individual, thereby decreasing the likelihood that they would obtain the antibodies. Finally, the jury is still out on whether an immunity can even be established against COVID-19. Even with a vaccine, it is possible that it may not be 100% and permanently effective with the first dose.

The Swedish Public Health Agency revealed a paltry 6% of its population has tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, as BBC News reported, which is hardly a raving endorsement for herd immunity.

Astronomical Death Rate Among the Nordic States

For these reasons, Sweden stirred controversy when it decided that it would not shutdown with the rest of the world and it continued to pay a price in casualties. As of Friday, it ranked 27th with 5,676 deaths according to health data compiled by Worldometers.

Its neighbors boast far better results, however. Denmark has only 612 deaths, Norway 255, and Finland 328. Even when considering population differences (Sweden has roughly twice the population of each of its neighbors, the numbers are harrowing. So why then are Swedish health experts so resolute in defending their strategy and insistent upon declaring it a national success?

“The epidemic is now being slowed down, in a way that I think few of us would have believed a week or so ago,” said Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist.

‘No Strong Evidence’

It is true, the numbers are now looking incredibly favorable particularly when compared with the virus’ peak in April. Tegnell hailed recent statistics as vindication of the Swedish strategy saying, “We have managed to [slow the spread] with substantially less invasive measures.

Have daily deaths and cases fallen? Yes. Did resisting a nationwide lockdown keep the Swedish economy afloat? Yes. However if these are the only metrics, then what is the point of fighting the coronavirus at all, if we are to entirely ignore the lives sacrificed needlessly?

Tegnell conceded there may have been too many casualties, but he remained in stark denial that lockdown measures would have helped, declaring there was “no strong evidence that a lockdown would have made the much of a difference.”

Lofven Government Loses Support

Lives weren’t the only casualty as a result of the strategy—support for the government, including Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, plummeted. Although Lofven and his Swedish Social Democratic Party have enjoyed higher approval numbers since before the pandemic began, June marked a turning point as Lofven’s approval rating fell 10%, according to SBS News. Public faith in Lofven’s party similarly dropped 9%.

Swedes are now questioning whether or not Stockholm leaders made the right call. Estimates anticipate a 5% economic contraction this year, less than Sweden’s neighboring states. Consumer spending was higher, however, but an unemployment rate of 9% leads the Nordic states, BBC News reported.

“Sweden, like the other Nordic countries, is a small, open economy, very dependent on trade. So the Swedish economy tends to do poorly when the rest of the world is doing poorly,” said Prof. Karolina Ekholm, a former Deputy Governor of Sweden’s central bank.

It remains to be seen if Sweden’s strategy has further reciprocal effects, but for now the damage, aside from casualties, appears to be limited to its image. The state, usually a top-tier nation in terms of health and wellness, now is forced to defend the sacrificing of its citizens to preserve its economy. 

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