Did Sweden Get COVID Rght?

Posted: Feb 15, 2022 1:05 PM
Did Sweden Get COVID Rght?

Sweden has been a controversial country over the course of the COVID pandemic.  Anti-restrictionists have often pointed to its lighter-touch governmental approach as the right course of action, while pro-restrictionists have decried the Scandinavian country's government for running what they call a dangerous and irresponsible experiment -- one that, at least at first, led to elevated death rates compared to neighboring countries.  But in the longer run, was the Swedish model a success or a failure?  First, let's stipulate that Sweden hardly adopted the 'anything goes' attitude that many have ascribed to it.  Its people were voluntarily very cautious, and its government is currently recommending fourth vaccine shots for elderly residents.  There was no free-for-all under which Swedes lived as if COVID didn't exist.  But mandates were used only sparingly and briefly, certainly compared to many other places around the world.  In a new piece in the UK Telegraph, Fraser Nelson argues that Sweden out-performed the United Kingdom across nearly all key metrics.  He asks, provocatively, "was Sweden right about COVID all along?"

...During the lockdowns, Sweden became the world’s defiant outlier.  Swedes saw it the other way around. They were keeping calm and carrying on: lockdown was an extreme, draconian, untested experiment. Lock up everyone, keep children out of school, suspend civil liberties, send police after people walking their dogs – and call this “caution”? Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, never spoke about a Swedish “experiment”. He said all along he could not recommend a public health intervention that had never been proven...Tegnell also made another point: that he didn’t claim to be right. It would take years, he’d argue, to see who had jumped the right way. His calculation was that, on a whole-society basis, the collateral damage of lockdowns would outweigh what good they do. But you’d only know if this was so after a few years. You’d have to look at cancer diagnosis, hospital waiting lists, educational damage and, yes, count the Covid dead. Almost two years on, we can look at the early indications.

I'll pause here to note that a recent Johns Hopkins study determined that COVID lockdowns of the sort that Sweden eschewed had negligible impact on saving lives in the United States and Europe.  Some scientists disagree with its methodology and findings.  Here are some of Nelson's head-to-head comparisons between Sweden and the UK:

As Sweden abolishes all domestic Covid restrictions, it emerges with one of Europe’s lower Covid death tolls: the rate is 1,614 per million people, just over half the amount of Britain (2,335). Given that our death tolls were comparable at first (both among the worst anywhere), it’s hard to argue that there’s some demographic force which meant Covid was never going to spread in Sweden...Nor is it possible to argue that Sweden was some hedonistic party-nation: its people were incredibly cautious. But unlike Brits, they had a government that trusted them...[The government and populace's decisions] kept Covid low, while the lack of rules allowed for people to use their judgement while minimising economic and social damage. Sweden’s GDP fell by 2.9 per cent in 2020, while Britain’s collapsed by 9.4 per cent. Both have bounded back, but Sweden’s economy is this year expected to be five per cent larger than before the pandemic, versus two per cent for Germany. The UK will be about one per cent, one of the lowest figures in Europe.

The cost of the various Covid measures is best summed up by the debt mountain: an extra £8,400 per head in Britain, and £3,000 in Sweden. Swedish schools kept going throughout, with no face masks. Sixth-formers and undergraduates switched to home learning, but the rest of Swedish children went to school as normal. That’s not to say there weren’t absences as the virus spread: it was common to see a third, at times even half of the class absent due to sniffles or suspected Covid. But there were no full-scale closures and, aside from some suspicions about minor grade inflation (the average maths grade sneaked up to 10.1, from 9.3), there is no talk in Sweden about educational devastation.

Read the whole piece for extra nuggets, additional arguments about the preferability of Sweden's approach, and some counterpoints that help explain why the Swedes are unlikely to take a victory lap anytime soon.  But some of the data presented above is inarguably powerful.  Some extra context, from an American perspective: The COVID deaths per million rate in the US is nearly 2,800, compared to Sweden's 1,600.  Our educational disruptions were significant, especially so in restrictive states and cities (overwhelmingly run by Democrats).  Masks are still worn in many American grade schools, by dint of government decree, based on stubborn and unsupported CDC recommendations.  The EU's CDC offered very different guidance on this front, and Sweden kept kids in classrooms all along the way, overwhelmingly maskless.  Fewer than 20 Swedish children -- total, aged 0-19 -- have died with or of COVID.

Two other factors to bake into your thinking about the efficacy of restrictions and evaluations of disparate approaches: Sweden has a higher percentage of fully vaccinated residents than we do here (73 vs 64 percent, respectively).  In Sweden, roughly one-in-five adults is obese; in the United States, it's more than one-in-three.  Big difference, significant factor.  On the economy, as seen elsewhere, America's rebound is well underway, and it's outpacing recoveries in other Western nations.  That bounce-back is being driven by less restrictive, more permissive, disproportionately Republican-led states.  Meanwhile, Democrat-dominated jurisdictions continue to get things backward, cruelly and foolishly punishing children based on no science at all:

Finally, responding to a defense of the cancel mob coming after and ousting a (very liberal) fashion executive because she had the temerity to be outspoken (and correct) on behalf of keeping schools open during the pandemic, I offered this observation:

Cynical, but at least partially explanatory, I think.  I'll leave you with this speech.  It's quite good.  "The party of parents" is a refrain the GOP should eagerly embrace:

Raising the teachers unions' manipulation of the official "Science" is a no-brainer.  That was, and is, an outrage.