sweden 0 rest-of-the-world 1

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For months now the debate has raged over whether Sweden was right to avoid the strict pandemic lockdown restrictions implemented by most other European governments, including our own. Now, with each country’s Eurovision scoring in and counted, does Sweden’s unique approach to coronavirus represent a shining example for the rest of the world or a cautionary tale?

From the beginning of March, the country refused to lockdown the nation, allowing schools, restaurants, businesses, bars, barbers and borders to all remain open. Relatively loose social distancing and home working advice was issued and citizens were largely trusted to follow them. Which the vast majority did: mobility and movement fell by 16% and as many as 80% worked from home when and where possible. Notwithstanding this, Sweden’s policy was largely to allow the virus to spread through the population in a controlled way, and represented perhaps the closest approach to achieving herd immunity.

Five months in and the policy appears to have taken a terrible toll. Sweden’s mortality rate, with almost five thousand deaths in a population of just ten million, is among the highest in the world. Comparable neighbouring nations have fared markedly better: Denmark’s death rate (600 out of 6m) is five times lower, Finland’s (325/5.5) is eight times lower and Norway’s (250/5.4m) eleven times. Furthermore, almost 40% of Swedish Covid deaths have occurred in the care sector. And the light-touch approach hasn’t even spared the economy as the country’s economy is forecast to fall by as much as 10%, in line with the rest of Europe. Ouch.

However, here’s the rub, as we relax our lockdown measures we are now moving into a modus operandi extremely similar to that which Sweden has been following. In the absence of a vaccine, Sweden’s middle way could yet represent the societal model of the ‘new normal’ as we learn to live with the virus. Deaths and all. My feeling is that the referee has yet to blow his full-time whistle and I suspect a score-draw may be on the cards. Only one thing is for certain and that is we need to tread very carefully in the near future.