"Has Sweden got it right?", Darren McCaffrey
It’s been labelled risky, reckless, an outlier. Sweden has been at the centre of much debate over the past few weeks. Why has it not ruthlessly pursued lockdown like everyone else? Is it doing the right thing?
Well, the Swedes themselves seem to think so, with overwhelming support for their government’s decisions and the advice of scientists.
This is not a country divided. And we should also be clear that this is not a country that has done nothing. It has banned large gatherings, closed high schools and universities and told elderly people to self-isolate.
But restaurants, bars, primary schools and most businesses are still open. The country has forged its odd path. And in absolute terms, unfortunately, more people so far have died compared to its Nordic neighbours.
At the time of writing Sweden, with a population of around 10.2 million people, has 14,777 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,580 people have died from the virus.
Norway, which has approximately half the population, has seen 7,156 cases – around half of that of Sweden – and the much-lower figure of 181 deaths. Finland and Denmark are comparable to Norway in terms of population size. Finnish authorities report 4,014 COVID-19 cases and 98 fatalities. While Denmark, which imposed lockdown measures relatively early on and is now starting to reopen, has 7,695 cases and 370 people have died of the virus.
The virus has been over four times more deadly in Sweden than in Denmark, even though it has only twice the population. And in Finland, that statistic rises dramatically. Yet, hospitals in Sweden have not been overwhelmed; figures available from last week show capacity is running at 80 per cent and worst-case estimates around infection and death rates have simply not transpired.
That is not to say there isn’t anger out there, particularly at a perceived lack of shielding of older people. More than a third of fatalities have been people living in care homes.
The impact of the coronavirus cannot simply be measured by its effect on health. Unsurprisingly, Sweden has been less damaged economically. Personal spending in Denmark is down 66 percent and in Finland it stands at 70 percent, compared to only 30 percent in Sweden. Unemployment claims in Norway are rising four times as fast as those in Sweden. The latter’s overall economy is not expected to slump to nearly the same degree as much of Europe.
And then there is the issue of so-called herd immunity. Studies at the weekend suggested between 25-40 percent of Stockholm may have actually already had the virus. It could be up to 60 percent by late May.
Does this mean Sweden will be better able to stem, stop or see less of an impact from the second or third waves when they inevitably come? We honestly do not know. It isn’t an exact science at the moment, we can't predict the future. And it will be a long time before we can fully assess whether or not Sweden has got it right.
Euronews Political Editor