A Qualified Apology to Sweden

Their approach is still not great, but the US has proven it can perform even worse

A Qualified Apology to Sweden

Between early April and early May, I published a series of posts about Sweden’s divergent approach to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and its results compared to its neighbor, Norway. I did this from a country that still had the chance to “flatten the curve” and push Covid-19 to the periphery in some key ways.

However, any smugness that accrued from that possibility has since evaporated. In the ensuing months, the United States has eclipsed Sweden in Covid-related deaths and cases per capita.

In short, I’m sorry, Sweden . . . but with some heavy qualification, because two wrongs don’t make a right.

Here’s how the US now looks compared to Sweden in a few major areas, according to the excellent “Our World in Data” tracking site from Oxford University.

The US exceeded Sweden for per capita deaths from Covid-19 by early September.

The US is now a runaway train of cases compared to Sweden’s commuter rail.

However, the case fatality rate so far for the US is lower than for Sweden.

But how has Sweden fared versus the original source of comparison, Norway?

Sweden still looks pretty bad compared with Norway, its neighbor.

Sweden also has more cases by far than its neighbor, a trend that has accelerated since early April.

One of the putative benefits of Sweden’s lax approach was the ability to preserve a more robust economy. This appears to have been realized to an extent, but at a definite human cost. It also doesn’t appear to be something the US should consider, even if the current Administration is of the opinion that a neuroradiologist’s view of herd immunity should now prevail.

As a Swedish expert wrote earlier this week in the Washington Post:

Sweden’s strategy indeed likely helped the economy — but this came at too high a  cost, in terms of lives lost. Taking a similar approach in the United States would, in all probability, be even more costly, because unlike Sweden and other European countries, the United States does not have a centralized, publicly funded health-care system with universal coverage.

What seems to be happening now is a bit of regret on the part of Sweden for the excess lives lost as they avoided early lockdowns, with an acknowledgement from Europe — which is experiencing a major resurgence of Covid-19 — that more targeted restrictions can work. Sweden is also starting to impose similar targeted lockdowns, a concession in the face of their earlier failed approach. In short, policymakers are finding a blended approach and meeting in the middle. A more wary and well-equipped populace also helps make these approaches more likely to succeed.

So, allow me to apologize for adopting any sort of condescension toward Sweden in earlier posts. Your country made some major mistakes that have cost your beautiful nation a lot of lives — but my country has shown you and everyone else how to really mishandle a pandemic response on every level.

So, with sincerity, I close with a qualified:

Jag hoppas att du förlåter mig. Snälla, var inte arg på mig.

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