Sweden reverses course.

Sweden has long been viewed as the contrarian in COVID-19 management. The country took the tack of not employing social restrictions while attempting to protect vulnerable people who would be likely to get seriously ill or die. This allowed them to keep their economy open and avoid any mandatory restrictions. They were attempting to achieve “herd immunity” through “controlled” infections in the population.

Using this concept, the Swedes actually did as well as any other European country during the first outbreak of COVID-19.  Even last month, Swedes enjoyed unrestricted sporting and cultural events. Officials insisted that the country’s voluntary measures would spare them from the resurgence in infections that was sweeping Europe.

From the WSJ, December 6, 2020.

However, a massive surge in COVID-19 in Sweden from the second wave has forced the country to change its approach, as outlined in a recent WSJ article. Covid-19-related deaths in Sweden now have reached almost 700 per million inhabitants, infections are growing exponentially, and hospital wards are filling. Because of this the Swedish government was forced to act.

In a poignant televised address on Nov. 22, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven pleaded with Swedes to cancel all nonessential meetings and announced a ban on gatherings of more than eight people, which triggered the closure of most entertainment venues. Starting Monday, high schools will be closed.

Dr. Piotr Nowak

Piotr Nowak, a physician working with Covid-19 patients at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, was quoted in the WSJ as commenting that “authorities chose a strategy totally different to the rest of Europe, and because of it the country has suffered a lot in the first wave. We have no idea how they failed to predict the second wave.”

According to the WSJ, Sweden’s total coronavirus death count crossed 7,000. Neighboring Denmark, Finland, and Norway, all similar-sized countries, have recorded since the start of the pandemic 878, 415, and 354 deaths respectively. For the first time since World War II, Sweden’s neighbors have closed their borders with the country.

Dr. Anders Tegnell

Dr. Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, is the architect of the country’s approach and continues to state that lockdowns are un-sustainable. He recently predicted that Swedes would gradually build immunity to the virus through controlled exposure, that vaccines would take longer than expected to develop, and that death rates across the West would converge.

In contrast to his theory, the West’s first coronavirus vaccine was authorized in Britain last week, Sweden’s death rate remains an outlier among its neighbors, and Dr. Tegnell acknowledged in late November that the new surge in infections showed there was “no sign” of herd immunity in the country. Interestingly, the WSJ also reports that the economic benefits from Sweden’s approach have waned as the pandemic has worn on.

Sadly, it now seems that the Swedes’ experiment was a complete failure.

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

4 thoughts on “Sweden reverses course.

  1. Thanks for this column. I am not being difficult but am genuinely confused – Sweden and Michigan have about the same population (10 million). Sweden’s CV19 deaths are 7K and Michigan’s are now almost 10K so how is it Sweden who failed? There may be an apples/oranges issue here but it is not clear to me. Happy Holidays Dr. Baker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess it depends on your comparator. If you compare to other Scandinavian countries, 7,000 deaths seems awful. If you are comparing to other US states, 10,000 deaths seems about average! It gets even more complex since almost all of Sweden’s deaths are in the over 85 age group. Thanks for the comment!


  2. I appreciate your blog but it is disappointing to see the comment that the “Swedes experiment was a complete failure.” The myopic approach that COVID cases and deaths per capita are the only measures of a country’s success handling the pandemic is just such a flawed approach. Sweden never had a heard immunity strategy. It was just spun that way by others. They just thought lockdowns and forced rules were worse for society. They hoped greater immunity in the community would help them avoid spikes that could overwhelm their heath system and the overall health of their people and economy would be better. And they didn’t see a way out of the lockdown approach. Unfortunately, the reality of the virus has forced necessary restrictions. But their last 8 months have been much different than the rest of the world.

    You can’t compare the Sweden approach overall unless you look at all the overall health picture. Because in the US the mental health toll and hidden costs of locking down are brutal. Are ODs and suicides up in Sweden? In Michigan, LACASA Center reports in Livingston County:
    -230% in Child Forensic Interviews (investigating child abuse)
    – Sexual assault exams doubled
    – 96% increase in helpline calls
    – Tripled personal protection orders
    How do these compare in Sweden?

    The under 25 population has been saddled with trillions in debt for a virus that is less risky for them than the flu. The ODs and suicide in this group is killing far more than COVID ever will. The US has made it political and turned it citizens against each other blaming lack of masks and natural human behavior as the cause of any increase in spread. Fear is rampant. You have people driving alone in cars with masks? The narrative that If we only masked harder or locked down harder this would all be behind us is so divisive.

    The Swedish approach should be analyzed for the overall impact on society. History will be the judge but I would much prefer to be treated the way Sweden treats it citizens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rick, if you have been to Sweden you would find it is one of the most socialized countries in the world. Alcoholism and suicide, tied in part to the long, dark winters are very problematic, to the point that alcohol is taxed at an unbelievable rate just to try and control drinking. Sweds have tried to improve incentives to start new business and encourage initiative, but many of the young people remain stifled by high taxes and social conformity imposed in schools.

      I would not recommend how the US has handled the pandemic to any country, but I am not sure Sweden was better. History will judge, but sadly that too will likely be politically interpreted. Thanks for the comment!


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