Update: Sweden v. Norway and Covid-19
The Swedish "experiment" — now lauded in US conservative media — gets worse
Twelve days ago, I wrote a post comparing Covid-19 infections and cases between Norway and Sweden. The cases and trendlines for Sweden and Norway were as shown below (via the JHU Coronavirus Resource Center). These countries are neighbors, sharing a long border, a lot of economic features, and many cultural attributes. As Rachel Maddow put it, “they’re kind of like our Vermont and New Hampshire” to those of us in the US.
Sweden continues to pursue a policy of limited public interventions and keeping schools and its economy open, while Norway has closed schools, public spaces, and non-essential businesses.
Sweden’s policy has become a darling of conservative media in the US, cited by many to justify the US to “open for business.” Governors in some states are opening beaches, parks, and (shockingly) malls, gyms, and restaurants. After all, Sweden’s approach is working, right?!
You be the judge. Here’s the history, in charts, from April 2 to April 21:
Notice the differences in the y-axes already emerging on April 2, with Sweden’s already 1.5x higher than Norway’s.
As of April 9:
Both Swedish y-axes are higher than Norway’s. This time, capturing the “Daily Increase” for Sweden requires 2x the y-axis as Norway (their y-axis remained the same), while the “Confirmed Cases” y-axis for both increased — Norway, because they nosed over 6,000 cases as their curve appeared to flatten; Sweden, because they surged to over 8,000 cases.
Death tolls at this time told an equally grim story, with the Washington Post reporting:
While the Scandinavian countries reported their first fatalities at roughly the same time, Sweden as of April 8 had 687 fatalities, Denmark 218, and Norway 93. In per capita terms, Sweden is faring clearly worse than Norway and increasingly worse than Denmark.
On top of this, there were reports that Covid-19 had spread to 1/3 of the nursing homes in Stockholm.
Had this forestalled economic damage? The short answer was “No,” as the Post reported:
. . . there [is not] much indication that the Swedish economy is weathering the storm better than comparable countries. The drop in the stock market and the rise in unemployment are roughly in line with other advanced economies.
So, what’s happening now?
Here are the same charts, updated for April 21:
Notice that now the Swedish y-axes are far higher than those for Norway (20k vs. 8k for total cases, and 2x for Daily Cases). In addition, cases are definitely tailing off in Norway.
To make the y-axes’ differences clearer, while adding differences in total deaths, see below:
Sweden has nearly 10x the total Covid-19-related deaths as Norway now. Back on April 8th, Sweden’s death toll was 687, and is now 1,580 — nearly 900 more deaths — while Norway’s increased from 93 on April 8th to 181, or less than 90 more deaths in the same timeframe. In addition, Sweden’s case numbers continue to climb, while Norway’s have reached what appears to be an inflection point.
Sweden’s experiment continues to result in more infections and more deaths, with uncertain economic benefits.
If the US or other countries use Sweden as inspiration for relaxing stay-at-home policies, workplace closures, and social distancing, we’d better brace for new outbreaks, more demands for ICU beds, and higher death rates.