Sweden’s Soft Approach to COVID-19
It’s no secret, practically no country, region or sovereignty was left unscathed when it came to COVID-19 cases. There have been over 11.6 million confirmed cases around the world, with over 539,000 deaths. With so many cases and deaths being reported around the world, why didn’t everyone practice the same safety protocols? The answer is simple; it’s complicated.
One approach that received a lot of media was Sweden’s decision to keep everything open and ask its citizens to practice basic social distancing protocols. The Swedish government asked that everyone stay at least 3 feet apart from one another, which is half the distance many other countries have put in place.
Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist of the Public Health Agency of Sweden, is at the heart of the ongoing controversy surrounding Sweden’s COVID-19 strategy. In fact, Sweden has the world’s highest coronavirus mortality rates. With 73,344 confirmed cases and 5,447 deaths to date, their per capita death toll is among the highest in the world.
“Sweden recorded the most coronavirus deaths per capita in Europe in a seven-day average between 25 May and 2 June. The country’s mortality rate was 5.29 deaths per million inhabitants a day (the UK ranked second with 4.48).” – Ourworldindata
Even so, Tegnell insists his strategy is misunderstood, as his goal was to diminish the impact of the virus on the society and healthcare industry. Many experts spoke about his methods being linked to herd immunity. If so, in order to reach such immunity, over 60% of the population would need to be immune to the coronavirus by now. However, according to a new study, only 6.1% of Sweden’s population has developed antibodies to COVID-19, making experts further question Tegnell’s strategy.
During a press conference in mid-June, Tegnell explained:
“The strategy has never been to achieve a certain level of immunity… Our strategy has always been to keep the level of spread on a level that is so low that it does not affect society or healthcare in any catastrophic way and that has been achieved. Knowing the level of immunity has more to do about, OK, what do we need to continue doing and what do we need to add to become even better after the summer” – Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist
Even more concerning is the surrounding countries, notably Denmark, Norway and Finland, whom all adopted strict quarantine measures from the beginning, are all afraid of Sweden’s high confirmed cases. Many are not permitting Swedes into the country or are requiring mandatory quarantine protocols when they arrive.
Would Sweden’s Approach Work in the U.S.?
Currently, we can all agree Sweden’s approach is not going very well. If the U.S. were to adopt a similar approach, there would need to be more strict measures for certain age groups.
For example, one aspect that slipped through Sweden’s fingers were the death tolls in retirement homes. Limiting access to these and ensuring safety protocols would greatly diminish the death toll.
Of course, we are comparing a country of 10 million citizens to one with over 331 million. If the United States had adopted a more relaxed approach, states such as the District of Columbia, with the highest population density of 11,570 people per square mile, would have had a disastrous amount of COVID-19 cases. Perhaps herd immunity could have been possible, but at what cost?
Furthermore, hospitals would be overwhelmed with people needing medical assistance, leading many to die not only from the virus, but of sheer lack of resources.
Every country has their own right, customs, beliefs and strategies when it comes to dealing with the global pandemic. It’s evident Sweden’s strategy has yet to be proven effective. However, only time will tell if one method was more effective than another.