I have started to track Sweden’s numbers of Wuhan coronavirus reported cases and reported deaths. Why Sweden? Because it is taking a different approach to dealing with the virus.
Instead of locking down, Sweden is keeping its restaurants, cafes, and schools open. Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says he’s relying on the good judgment of Swedes to carry their country through the pandemic.
Good judgment or not, Sweden’s approach means a faster spread of the virus than would occur with a lockdown. On a per capita basis, new cases in Sweden have started to outpace new cases in Norway, which has locked down.
In addition, according to this report from Bloomberg, the rate per million of deaths from the virus in Sweden is 36, compared to 9 in Norway. (Note, however, that a lockdown can take a considerable amount of time to affect the death rate. Norway reportedly locked down on March 12. Also, countries don’t all use the same methodology to count deaths caused by the virus.)
In any case, the key point, which is absent from Bloomberg’s report, is that the merits of locking down vs. not locking down can’t be determined by looking at new case and new death numbers for a few days or simply by comparing the “flattening” of the two country’s curves.
A genuine accounting will require comparing economic impacts (I’d be surprised if Sweden avoids a recession by staying open for business, but its economy might, or might not, fare considerably better than Norway’s); ability of Swedish and Norwegian hospitals to cope with the pandemic; and, of course, the long term death counts, especially among those not likely to have died soon anyway.
It’s not clear, however, that we will be able to make these comparisons. As Sweden’s numbers worsen, the government faces increased pressure to take more draconian measures. Some of that pressure apparently comes from the prime minister’s own party.
According to Bloomberg, Sweden has already become somewhat more restrictive than before. It recently banned gatherings larger than 50, compared with 500 previously. And restaurants now can only serve patrons while they’re seated at tables, not while standing at bars.
Still, these restrictions are a far cry from those in other countries, including Scandinavian ones.
For the record, as of yesterday (April 3), Sweden had 6,131 reported cases of the Wuhan coronavirus and 358 reported deaths. Norway’s corresponding numbers were 5,370 and 59. Sweden’s daily count for April 3 was 563 new cases (compared to 223 in Norway) and 50 deaths (compared to 9 in Norway).
Sweden’s total population is a little over 10 million. Norway’s is slightly more than half of that.