Italy and Sweden have one thing in common right now – they are both bucking the trend regarding the increasing number of coronavirus cases worldwide. Over the past two weeks, Italy’s cumulative number of COVID-19 cases was just over 37 per 100,000 people. The BBC’s Mark Lowen suggested that this was down to many reasons, which include: an efficient test and trace system, a longer lockdown and the fact that the trauma of the virus frightened numerous Italians into strict compliance with social distancing measures.
Yet Sweden was one of the very few nations in the world to not go into lockdown, and many now think that their strategy has paid off. So far, the country has recorded 5,895 deaths and 94,823 cases.
Meanwhile, Italy has recorded 35,918 deaths and 317,000 total cases. An immediate conclusion one can draw from this comparison is that Sweden managed to tackle the coronavirus without shutting down its entire economy, and they still managed to avoid recording more deaths than Italy did.
COVID-19 Deaths are Linked to Population Size
However, it was always inevitable that countries with larger population sizes were going to experience a higher number of deaths compared to smaller countries. In 2019, Italy had a population total of 60.36 million people, whereas Sweden’s population consisted of 10.23 million people that same year.
One of the main reasons why Italy experienced a higher number of COVID-19 deaths than many other countries is because it has one of the oldest populations in Europe. 23 percent of its residents are 65 or older. Many of Italy’s deaths have been among people in their 80s, and 90s, a population known to be more susceptible to severe complications from the coronavirus.
Sweden has an average age of 41.1 years. Therefore, it has a much younger population than Italy does.
Population Density is a Crucial Factor
The density of populations is another important factor that can trigger the spread of the coronavirus. Figures from the Italian statistics agency IStat show just how bad things have been in parts of northern Italy. Deaths in Lombardy during March 2020 were 186.5 percent above the five-year average, and in Bergamo they were 567.6 percent above the average.
Another reason why Sweden was able to curb the spread of the coronavirus was because it has a high proportion of single-occupancy households, and a relatively low proportion of multi-generational households. This meant that the coronavirus was far less likely to spread across Sweden than in Italy.
But it would be a mistake to suggest that Sweden did nothing to stop the spread of the virus. In March, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven urged people to take responsibility and obey the Government’s advice, which included staying at home if you feel sick, working from home if you can, and to stay at home if you are aged 70 or over. Swedish venues were also only allowed to provide table service to avoid crowding. Like Italy, many Swedes complied with their Government’s guidelines and this is why both countries are successfully curbing the spread of the pandemic.
Sweden Was More Successful Than Italy in Tackling the Virus
Due to Italy’s population density, size and age, it was always inevitable that they would experience more coronavirus deaths than Sweden, but considering the latter was able to prevent the virus’s spread without a lockdown due to its compliant population, it is a tragedy that Italy felt it had to go into lockdown. The effects of lockdown will be far greater in the long-term than COVID-19 itself.
Sweden’s GDP drop of -8.6 percent is far lower than Italy’s (-12.4 percent). A recent report from Capital Economics concludes that Sweden’s economy is the least damaged in Europe, the “best of a bad bunch”, whilst the rest of Europe suffered from a significant recession. Italy’s economy was in major trouble before lockdown, and its politicians have made it worse for generations to come.
Out of the two countries, Sweden tackled the spread of COVID-19 far better than Italy did. They avoided a total lockdown and trusted their people to follow government guidelines. The Italians also followed their government’s recommendations, but their politicians still felt it was necessary to impose draconian measures upon them. The lesson from both countries is that it does not matter how lightly or harshly governments restrict their populations, people must take ultimate responsibility for their health, not politicians.