Sweden has been criticized for its strategy of dealing with the Coronavirus. The European country decided to let its healthy population be infected by the Wuhan Coronavirus to achieve herd immunity. Now, the numbers show that Sweden may be successful in dealing with COVID-19 without forcing people into lockdown.
While most Western countries chose extreme lockdown measures to combat the 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 population has developed a strong immune response to the virus, it can 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.
Now, it looks like Sweden may turn out to be right, after all. It has suffered from fewer deaths than people expected. Its death rate of 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, despite the strict lockdown.
It turns out that most of Sweden’s COVID-19 deaths are concentrated in the capital city of 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 these groups.
The spread of the virus is slowing down in Sweden, comparable to countries that shut down. 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.
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.