Everything Sweden has done right
In the Covid crisis, one country shows how to take a measured approach and how to admit to mistakes
From early on in the Covid crisis Sweden has been criticised for taking a different approach. But the country has also been held up as a beacon of reason and for some of us maybe even freedom. Sure, you might say, they also suffered economically and they had a high death toll. So let’s put all of that into context.
Making recommendations rather than giving orders
First off, Sweden didn’t just do nothing. Sweden took a trust-based approach, making social distancing voluntary, recommending vulnerable people stay home, people work from home, and avoid unnecessary travel. Sweden banned gatherings of over 50 people, while schools stayed open, so did many bars and restaurants. An individual’s responsibility is even written into Sweden’s law.
It is important to note, now that we have some data, that full lockdowns and the closing of schools in other countries were measures that had the least impact on reducing the spread of the virus. The highest impact were measures such a social distancing and the ban of large events.
Anders Tegnell with Sweden’s Public Health Agency said that Sweden just wanted to flatten the curve, like other countries as well, but with a more sustainable approach. I want to personally add to this, that all governments ever only spoke of flattening the curve, it was never realistic to eradicate this disease. Evidence was there early on — in the form of dropping R-values — that the curve was flattening as soon as large events were banned, people started to socially distance and work from home. The idea behind flattening the curve was to slow the virus down, but still let it percolate through the population. The lockdowns essentially broke the curve by shielding everyone, which now means countries with a lockdown will have to deal with a second wave or stay in lockdown forever.
Again, it was from the very beginning clear to every scientist that this disease would not be eradicated and become part of our regular seasonal cold. On the one hand, the virus will get milder, because it is not in the virus’ interest to keep killing off its hosts. Secondly, the development of a vaccine could potentially take a long time, so countries with extreme lockdowns would have to stay in quarantine until the vaccine is developed. Sweden understood that and wanted to let the virus spread through its population in a controlled manner.
The following video explains a bit more about Sweden’s thought process in April. Giesecke’s view is that in about a year’s time, whatever measure a country has taken, the final death toll will not have been influenced by whatever measure was taken.
The epidemiologist behind Sweden's controversial coronavirus strategy
As much of Europe imposed severe restrictions on public life last month to stem the spread of the coronavirus, one…
Admitting mistakes, seeking to improve
Sweden has an issue with high death tolls in care homes. Tegnell admits that this aspect was overlooked and that the elderly should have been protected better. An investigation is launched into Sweden’s Covid strategy.
I think it is too early for this investigation, because the numbers will be telling only in about a year’s time. We have high-profile scientists suggesting that a vast majority of people who died from Covid-19 would have likely died within the year anyway. Which means that we can analyse the overall excess deaths in a year and see if they average out or not.
What strikes me as comforting is that Swedish politicians stand up and admit to mistakes, go back to their strategies and evaluate what has to be done better next time. When have you last heard a government representative admit to a mistake?
But it’s equally important to understand that because there was an issue with care homes, doesn’t mean that the entire population should have been locked down. As Tegnell understands correctly, it means that at-risk groups have to be better protected in a next case. Just locking up an entire population ultimately helps nobody.
Sweden defends not locking down over coronavirus, but admits failing to protect the elderly
The architect of Sweden's coronavirus response has defended the country's controversial decision not to go into…
I do not want to dwell on the economic part too long, because it’s a no-brainer. Of course voluntary social distancing has some impact on the economy. But more so, how is a relatively small country not supposed to be affected if the global economy around it shuts down? It has for decades not been possible anymore to look at one country’s economy in isolation from the global economy.