How comeback kid Sweden got the last laugh on Coronavirus: Infections and deaths fall to record lows and economy improves as Britain removes the country that shunned lock-down from the quarantine list
- Sweden’s infection rate, once the highest in Europe, is now lower than in UK, Spain, France, Italy or Denmark
- Curve was flattened without a lockdown as government trusted Swedes to take necessary hygiene measures
- Falling cases and deaths have led Britain to regard the country as safe and remove it from quarantine list
- Swedish economy has seen a far milder downturn than in much of Europe as shops and restaurants stayed open
by Tim Stickings
DAILY MAIL ONLINE
Sept. 13, 2020
While coronavirus cases rebound across Europe, Sweden is enjoying record low numbers of infections and deaths despite months of skepticism about its lockdown-free strategy.
Sweden’s infection rate — once the highest in Europe — is now lower than in Britain, Spain, France or Italy, as well as Norway and Denmark where leaders have long been alarmed by their neighbor’s high death rate.
Sweden last week carried out a record number of tests but only 1.2 per cent of them came back positive, the lowest level since the start of the pandemic.
The Swedish comeback has now led Britain to remove the country from its quarantine list, opening the door to tourism in an economy which has already suffered a milder downturn than much of Europe.
Sweden has flattened the curve without ordering its people to stay inside — keeping shops, schools and restaurants open even at the height of the pandemic and trusting Swedes to combat the virus by washing their hands and abiding by social distancing rules.
The Nordic country’s top epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, has also played down the effectiveness of face masks and insisted that a full scale lockdown would not have prevented care home deaths.
Sweden’s infection rate was the highest in Europe as recently as mid-June, when increased screening led to more than 1,000 people testing positive per day.
On June 15, Sweden had a 7-day average of 101 cases per million people per day, while the next-highest in Europe was Belarus with 79.
In Western Europe, the next-highest was Portugal on 30 cases per million, while Sweden’s neighbors were far lower: Denmark six, Finland three, Norway two.
In addition, Sweden has piled up more deaths than Norway, Denmark and Finland put together, with 5,843 fatalities in total, despite its population being only twice as large as those countries.
The Swedish figures prompted concern and its strategy led to criticism at home and abroad, with many countries leaving Sweden off their lists of approved travel destinations when they resumed tourism …
But as Europe edged out of lockdown, Sweden continued to forge its own path by playing down the use of face masks as other countries made them mandatory.
Tegnell has said that masks have little proven effect and could lead to a false sense of security among wearers, and they are not required on public transport.
By contrast, Finland now recommends wearing masks in public places, Norway advises it on Oslo public transport, while Denmark has made it mandatory on all public transport and in taxis.
Tegnell’s standard response is that public health officials are ‘keeping an eye on’ the issue and could introduce the measure if deemed necessary.
‘Our strategy has been consistent and sustainable,’ says Jonas Ludvigsson, a professor of epidemiology at Karolinska Institutet.
‘We probably have a lower risk of spread here compared to other countries,’ he said, adding that Sweden likely had a higher level of immunity than other countries.
‘I think we benefit a lot from that now,’ he said.
Sweden has never adopted ‘herd immunity’ as a strategy in itself but officials have voiced hopes that it would gradually help to limit the spread of the disease.
However, scientists are not yet fully certain of exactly how much immunity is provided by recovering from Covid-19, or for how long it lasts.
A study by the UK’s Royal Society of Medicine last month found that only 15 per cent of people in Stockholm had acquired antibodies by May 2020.
Meanwhile, Swedish economic activity has started to pick up and the effects of the downturn look less severe than previously feared.
‘The economic situation is looking a little brighter compared to our assessment in June,’ finance minister Magdalena Andersson said in late August.
Sweden’s economy will contract around 4.6 per cent this year, Andersson said, compared to a projected 8.0 per cent slump in the EU and 11.0 per cent in Britain.
The predicted drop is lower than an earlier projection of 6.0 per cent and similar to that seen during the global financial crisis of 2008-09.
The outcome for Sweden is also roughly in line with forecasts for its Nordic neighbors, despite the much tougher measures they took to fight the pandemic.
Andersson said the improvement would mean a deficit in public finances of around 5.6 per cent of GDP this year, compared with its June forecast of 7.8 per cent.
She said the economy would need further support next year and in 2022 and 2023, promising around $11.46 billion of spending in September’s budget.
The Social Democrat-Green coalition government introduced a raft of policies to fight the pandemic, promising to spend about $34billion this year.