The European country of Sweden has been heavily criticized for its strategy of allowing its healthy population to be infected by the Wuhan Coronavirus to achieve herd immunity. However, the numbers show that the Swedish death rate is comparable to the American – all without the shutdown. According to Swedish authorities, the hardest-hit region of its capital city, Stockholm, will reach herd immunity during May 2020. If so, the Swedes may emerge among the winners with the most effective and least damaging strategy.
While most Western countries chose extreme lockdown measures to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Sweden opted for a different approach. Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell recommended that people take individual responsibility in social distancing, rather than having the government enforce measures. He also recommended keeping schools, kindergartens, restaurants, and many businesses open as usual. The goal is herd immunity, which is the strategy of infecting most of the healthy population with the virus. If enough of the community has developed a strong immune response to the virus, it is thought to create a wall of immunity that protects the old and sick.
The Swedish government was soon hammered with criticism due to a much higher death rate than the neighboring countries Finland, Denmark, and Norway. Even President Donald Trump highlighted Sweden as a failure.
Sweden may turn out to be right, after all. As of April 17, 2020, its death rate at 139 per million is low compared to countries like France, Italy, Spain, and Belgium. By comparison, 107 people per million have died in the United States. This is only 23% lower than in Sweden.
It turns out that most of Sweden’s COVID-19 deaths are concentrated in Stockholm. One-third of nursing homes are infected with the virus, and almost all deaths have occurred in these locations.
This is was not the fault of the herd immunity strategy, but rather a failure to protect and isolate the elderly. Once the problem was identified, steps were taken to protect vulnerable groups. Therefore, the death rate in Sweden should fall in the coming weeks and months.
The spread of the virus is slowing down in Sweden, comparable to countries that opted for a shutdown. Tegnell said in a press conference that the government believes around 30% of the population in Stockholm is infected. “Our mathematical models indicate that we will start to see flock immunity emerging in Stockholm during May,” he said.
The surprisingly good numbers coming out of Sweden are worth noticing. They may be directly relevant to the ongoing process of reopening the economy in America. If Sweden’s laissez-faire policy is successful, it could help other countries to handle the virus in a way that causes less economic destruction.