Has Sweden’s Covid-19 experiment paid off?

Sweden has one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates in Europe despite avoiding most lockdown restrictions, new data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests.

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Stockholm has opted not to implement a full national lockdown during the pandemic, instead relying on “voluntary behavior changes”, The Telegraph said. The decision meant the nation was “almost viewed as a rogue state” as other countries introduced sweeping restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

But according to WHO figures, Sweden had an excess mortality rate of 56 per 100,000 – well below the global average of 96. For comparison, between 2020 and 2021 the excess mortality rate was 109 in the UK, 111 in Spain and 116 in Germany.

Easy approach

At the start of the pandemic, Swedish health authorities argued that it would take “years” to determine which approaches to combating Covid-19 were most effective, The Telegraph reported, arguing it was better to avoid “untested measures”.

They also factored in the “collateral damage” of the lockdown, such as “the missed cancer diagnoses, the canceled hospital appointments and the lost education,” the paper said. And the decision “appears to have been confirmed.”

Sweden relies on individual citizens’ “sense of civic duty” to protect its population, the Daily Mail said, with authorities advising residents to practice social distancing while schools, bars and restaurants remain open to the public.

Important factors

Experts have suggested that socio-demographic factors may have played a big part in curbing excess deaths, meaning policies of avoiding formal lockdowns may not have worked so well in other countries.

These factors include “a high rate of single-person households,” which reduces the chances of transmission, and “low population densities compared to countries like the UK and Italy,” according to the Daily Mail.

But Professor Carl Heneghan, an expert in evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, told the newspaper that Sweden’s decision “not to cut transmission entirely but to reduce the health impact of the pandemic has been largely confirmed”.

He added that while the country’s “loose approach” is “not in line with Europe,” it “avoids lockdowns and the impact on the economy has proven to be milder.”

“The strategy for the future should be to trust the public to make the right decisions in the face of escalating risks to their health,” he added.

economic impact

At the end of the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast that Sweden’s economy would shrink by 7%. That turned out to be a pessimistic forecast as the country’s economy would shrink by just 2.8%, “significantly less” than the EU average of 6% and the UK’s “staggering” 9.8%, according to The Telegraph.

And Sweden’s economy recovered from the pandemic faster than any other country in Europe. By June 2021 it had overtaken where it was before the pandemic, with its GDP growth estimated at 4.3% in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022, according to the OECD.

Its strong economic performance was partly due to its response to the pandemic, but also to its “heavy reliance on industry” and its “smaller service sector,” Reuters said.

neighborhood comparison

While Sweden’s death toll is lower than many European countries, comparing its numbers with other Nordic countries shows that “Sweden cannot be called a success,” Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told the Daily Mail.

He added that it is “always difficult” to compare countries as excess mortality is influenced by “many more things” than just Covid policies, such as health spending.

Sweden’s neighbors fared significantly better when it came to keeping excess death rates low, with Denmark recording just 32 excess deaths per 100,000, while Norway had “one fewer deaths per 100,000 than expected,” according to the newspaper.

And while Sweden’s inflated death rate may look “flattering compared to most EU countries,” the WHO report is unlikely to settle many arguments about which countries have tackled the pandemic best, said François Balloux, director of University College London Genetics Institute, in The Guardian.

This is because excess deaths are “difficult to measure accurately,” he wrote, adding that the data “paints a complex picture that does not support a single simple narrative.”

A single number for each country “does not capture the full complexity of vastly different socioeconomic situations and two years of conflicting policies”. But “strength of mitigation measures” does not appear to be a “strong predictor of excess deaths.”

Overall, the WHO report highlights the importance of “reducing inequality, improving health and providing a robust social and healthcare system that provides the best pandemic preparedness,” Balloux added, which may also explain Sweden’s relative success .

https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/science-health/956673/did-sweden-covid-experiment-pay-off Has Sweden’s Covid-19 experiment paid off?

Fry Electronics Team

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