Sweden gives up on the “Swedish experiment”

As we have noted often on Power Line, Sweden took a different approach to the Wuhan coronavirus than that of its neighbors and, pretty much, the rest of Europe. It eschewed harsh lockdown measures. The hope was that Sweden could avoid an economic meltdown.

There was also the hope that Swedes might fairly quickly develop herd immunity to the virus. However, it’s important to note that Sweden did not go all in on achieving herd immunity. Authorities strongly recommended social distancing, working from home, and avoiding unnecessary travel, among other precautions. Apparently, compliance was fairly high.

Since embarking on its experiment, Sweden has been extremely hard hit by the pandemic, compared to its neighbors. According to Worldometer, there have been 689 deaths from the virus per one million people in Sweden. In Norway there have been only 65; in Denmark 147; in Finland 74. (However, Sweden’s per capita death number compares favorably to those of the U.S. and big European nations like the UK, Spain, France, and Italy.)

Nor have the Swedes developed herd immunity. In the last two months, new reported cases have skyrocketed — from a previous high of around 1,500 new cases per day (in July) to around 6,500 per day now.

New cases are spiking almost everywhere. However, Sweden’s spike is more pronounced than Norway’s, even though the Norwegians made no effort to achieve herd immunity. Reportedly, hospitalizations are rising faster in Sweden than any other European country

Dr. Anders Tegnell, the civil servant who pushed for the Swedish experiment, now says “we see no signs of immunity in the population that are slowing down the infection right now.” “The issue of herd immunity,” he adds, “is difficult.”

What about the economic benefits of not shutting down the economy? According to Lars Calmfors, professor emeritus in International Economics at Stockholm University, Sweden’s decline in GDP is considerably smaller than the drop in southern European countries and the United Kingdom, and is one to three percentage points smaller than in Denmark, Germany and the United States. However, Sweden’s decline in GDP exceeds that of Finland and Norway.

Calmfors points out that such comparisons can be misleading due to differences in the structure of various national economies. However, he concludes that the benefit Sweden’s economy accrued hasn’t been worth the excess (in comparison to its neighbors) loss of lives. I think he’s right, absent evidence of other adverse health consequences (e.g. a spike in suicides or deaths and serious illnesses from medical procedures foregone) that Sweden’s neighbors have incurred and Sweden has avoided.

The Swedish government appears to agree. Sweden has backed away from its experiment. Authorities have banned gatherings of more than eight people. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is advising Swedes: “Don’t go to the gym, don’t go the library, don’t have dinner out, don’t have parties — cancel!”

Swedes can be excused for saying “now he tells us.”