Give up the lockdown to “save” the economy? That’s why the Swedish recipe didn’t work

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It is the dilemma that has consumed the tormented spring of economists, politicians, scientists and all of us locked in the house. Was such a long and rigid quarantine really necessary? Hasn’t he done more damage than the virus itself? Now that the fear of the epidemic has eased and the first apocalyptic data on the economic impact of these months (GDP 2020 at minus 8? Minus 10? Minus 15 percent?) Intersect with the lived stories of entrepreneurs who cannot have done and have already closed, there are those who look back and say: but couldn’t we have chosen a softer alternative, like Sweden? In two words, the answer is No. Even if you only look at the economy, the damage from the quarantine is less than the damage from the non-quarantine. And for those who, like the Swedes, are close to us, the gain is uncertain and, in any case, minimal.

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Because Sweden has chosen to leave everything open

The first comparison – that between the presence or absence of the lockdown – was made by Daniel Gros, for his study center, Ceps. Gros did not use the usual parameter, the one that uses the insurance criteria to calculate the economic cost of a lost life and, from here, to compare saved lives with vanished jobs. The data he uses is, instead, the expense that would have been necessary to face a pandemic, without any brake. First of all, there are the hours of work lost by those who become infected, on average a month, between illness and isolation. Then, there is the cost in terms of hospitalization, intensive care, machinery, staff to manage tens of thousands of infections, a fifth of which end up in the hospital, for an expense that, according to Gros based on German healthcare prices, is of 32 thousand euros for each individual case. An epidemic that affected the entire population and sent a fifth to the hospital would cost more than quarantine.

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“At first I hoped for the lockdown, then I understood the Swedes”: an Italian bartender tells the quarantine that there was no

But what if the password, instead of lockdown, had been prudence, as in Sweden?
The Scandinavian country has imposed only very mild isolation rules, allowing daily life to take place normally and the economy to march regularly. It didn’t go well. Out of 10 million inhabitants, Sweden has recorded 3,831 deaths. The other three Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway and Finland) which, together, make up 15 million inhabitants and have adopted a quarantine comparable to the rest of Europe, in all one thousand. If you look only at the last few weeks, the death rate per million inhabitants (6.4) in Sweden is higher than both the English and the Italian ones.

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“Life must go on”. Here’s how Sweden dealt with the virus without closing everything

At least, however, the renunciation of the Italian quarantines saved the economy, didn’t it? No. Between April and June, the forecast is for a 6 percent drop in GDP, which the fall in exports is not enough to explain. In fact, consumption stopped: minus 5.4 percent in April. Nobody prevented the Swedes from taking advantage of the incipient spring to have a beer or eat the classic herring mix in the restaurant. But they did not do it: spending in bars and restaurants fell by 27 percent. The one for clothing sank 35 percent. The end result is that the difference between the Danish lockdown and the Swedish openings is minimal: aggregate demand in Denmark decreased by 29 percent this spring. In Sweden, slightly less: 25 percent.

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Coronavirus, Sweden changes its strategy and prepares to give up the “fully open”. The doctors’ appeal: “If the course is not reversed, it will be a catastrophe”

In short, from the point of view of the economy, the problem, more than the quarantine, is the virus and the fears it arouses. Also because, in the Swedish experiment, the decisive element is missing. The Stockholm government is accepting more deaths, in exchange for modest benefits for the economy, but without hitting the main target: immunity. In reality, the premise was already slippery: today, there is no scientific confirmation that overcoming the infection involves immunity from the virus. But even if it does, Sweden seems to escape: in late April, infectious disease specialists expected at least a third of Stockholmers to have come into contact with the virus. Instead, we are only 7.3 percent: herd immunity is truly remote, even if the price paid, in terms of deaths, to chase it begins to be high.

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