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.
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.
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, 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.