Therefore, Sweden was immediately observed with great attention by the international media, described as a kind of experiment. The country’s approach, which many have linked to a deep-rooted political culture based on solidarity and civic sense, has become a political topic. In several cases it has been celebrated by populist right-wing movements, contrary to the rigid measures of lockdown, the same who had attacked the country on the occasion of other counter-current decisions compared to the rest of Europe, such as the policies of great reception for migrants maintained for several years. The Swedish approach to the epidemic has instead been criticized by progressive parties, oriented towards greater prudence.
In both cases, judgments and interpretations of the Swedish model have often been supported by pretexting arguments and partial observations of the data and results from the country. So much so that the epidemiologist who coordinated the Swedish response to the epidemic, Anders Tegnell, complained that it was widely misunderstood. Contrary to what is claimed by some, in fact, it was not based on a disinterest or an underestimation of the epidemic, but rather on a bet – undoubtedly risky – on which is the best strategy in the long run.
Several data from the past few weeks, however, say that things have gone worse than expected in Sweden. In addition to having rather high levels of contagion, the country does not seem to be economically better off than the others, because it has suffered the enormous consequences of the global crisis.
Contagions and deaths
In Sweden – a country with around 10 million inhabitants – nearly 75,000 cases of coronavirus infection have been identified, with more than 5,500 deaths. To put the Swedish situation into perspective, it can be compared with that of Lombardy, with which it shares more or less the same number of inhabitants: since the beginning of the pandemic, Lombardy has identified almost 95 thousand cases of contagion and almost 17 thousand deaths. As is well known, however, these data are only partial, especially as regards Lombardy, where the ability to take tests has long been limited and the number of patients has saturated the places available in the hospital.
The data on cases of contagion per million inhabitants – useful to take into account the population differences between countries (for example Italy has six times the inhabitants of Sweden) – say that Sweden had just over 7 thousand: less than United States and Brazil, more than Italy and the United Kingdom and many more than neighboring countries such as Norway and Denmark (both under 2 thousand cases per million inhabitants). Data on deaths per million inhabitants – which like almost every coronavirus data depend on many complicated factors – put Sweden among the countries with the highest value, behind only Belgium, the United Kingdom and Italy.
Many, however, have reported that, even more than in other countries, a large part of the deaths occurred in rest homes, and therefore in a context in which the infections are not always influenced by what happens outside. But compared to Norway, there have been more than ten times as many deaths in Sweden: almost 550, compared to less than 50 per million inhabitants.
In Sweden, the peak of new daily cases (just under 2 thousand in 24 hours) was touched in June, therefore behind the rest of Europe, but for several days the cases have been in the hundreds. For several weeks now, the number of people hospitalized in intensive care has also been decreasing. Like many other European countries, Sweden seems to be in a phase of relative tranquility, far from the worst days of the pandemic.
In short: Sweden has been particularly affected by the virus but in any case no more than some other areas that at a certain point have chosen much stricter restrictive measures. The decision not to make any lockdown did not prevent Sweden from breaking the curve, and if it gave it a worse health picture than that of its neighboring countries, it was still better than it went in the countries most affected by the infection. From the health point of view, therefore, it is now in a situation not too different from that of many other European countries.
And the economy?
Despite the “light” version of the lockdown, which allowed commercial activities not to close, Sweden does not seem in a better economic situation than the others, even if you look at the forecasts for the coming months. Among others, he recently wrote about it New York Times in an article entitled “Sweden has become the example that the world must not follow”. The reason, explains the author of the article, is that “the hypothetical choice between lives and wages is wrong”, because it is not said that one thing is an alternative to another.
Although in the past months the Swedish economy has gone slightly better than that of countries in complete lockdown (a hairdresser with few clients still earns more than a hairdresser who does not work), the differences have been minimal. Above all, the chances that Sweden may have a better economy than the others, who have chosen to contain the infection more drastically, seem minimal.
– Also read: Sweden versus Italian newspapers
According to the Swedish central bank, the country’s economy will contract 4.5 percent this year. Unemployment in May rose to 9 percent (in March it was 7.1 percent), and according to an Oxford Economics study “the general damage suffered by the economy [svedese] it means that recovery will take time and the unemployment rate will remain high “.
The data from neighboring countries suggest this: for the Danish economy a contraction of 4.1 percent is expected, for the Norwegian economy (excluding the entire gas and oil sector) of 3.9 percent. As he wrote the New York Times, “Coronavirus does not stop at national borders” and this is not only true for contagions, but also for its effects on the economy of each country.
– Also read: In 2020, Italian GDP will contract by 11.2 percent, according to new estimates from the European Commission
Even being able to go out to dinner for several months, many Swedes (perhaps especially the older ones, generally with greater spending possibilities) evidently preferred not to do so. Even being able to go out to shop or to work, many Swedes were unable to do so because the raw materials needed to produce did not arrive from abroad or because the foreign market for the sale of certain products was firm or significantly contracted.
In March, for example, the factories in Scania, one of the most famous European manufacturers of industrial vehicles, had to stop production because the workers no longer had some essential components available that came from countries in lockdown, such as France. “This was enough to stop production,” he said to Reuters the CEO of Scania, Henrik Henriksson.
For companies with a presence abroad, it went even worse: a lockdown in China can easily have repercussions on a Swedish company and, consequently, on the country’s economy, so interconnected with that of the other European countries, and especially in that of the Nordic countries, which could hardly isolate itself from a global economic crisis.
Short and long term
Tegnell has become a very famous figure in Sweden, celebrated by many and criticized by many. To ABC, who asked him if in hindsight it would make sense to “really try to stop the disease promptly,” he replied: “In fact we still believe that it is the right strategy for Sweden. (…) But I think it’s still too early to say if Sweden was right or if someone else had it. ”
Sweden’s bet, it has been explained several times, is in fact more in the long run, and is based on the fact that the rigid lockdowns imposed in the rest of Europe are only sustainable in the short term. To face a year or more of coexistence with the coronavirus, the Swedish government decided, it was more useful to sensitize and encourage the population to exercise collective responsibility. Tegnell believes that this is the long-term sustainable model, if applied as promptly as Sweden did.
There are so many beneficial effects of failure lockdown which are not measurable in health or economic data: for example the well-being of children and parents due to the fact that schools have remained open. At the same time, neighboring countries that have imposed tighter lockdowns have now reopened their borders, but not with Sweden, confirming the fact that a country’s individual strategy can be conditioned or neutralized by neighboring decisions.
William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, told Bloomberg that the singularity of the Swedish approach has been to apply rather rigid measures, but to do it immediately, before the virus circulated widely. “The Swedish approach could prove sustainable in aspects that have not worked in other countries,” he explained, referring to the resilience of the health system and its ability to continue to provide treatment for anything other than coronavirus. Hanage added, however, that missing Sweden’s strategy was an effective plan to protect the weaker sections, such as the elderly in the nursing homes. “For the overall budget, time will tell.”