Sweden now has one of the lowest COVID death rates in Europe

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I asked a simple question. Could Sweden’s hands-off approach to coronavirus actually work?

Unlike its European neighbors and virtually every US state, the Swedes had chosen not to shut down the economy. The country of 10 million people has taken on what was first described as “a lighter touch”.

While other countries have closed schools and businesses, life in Sweden has remained fairly normal. Children went to public swimming pools and libraries, while adults sipped wine and lunched at local bistros. Although mass gatherings were banned, children continued to attend school, although pupils over the age of 16 were encouraged to take lessons remotely. The Swedish government has also encouraged people to work remotely and asked people over 70 to self-isolate, if possible.

For taking this approach, Sweden – and the architect of its public health policies, Anders Tegnell – has been widely condemned. Consider just a sample of titles:

“The inside story of how Sweden botched its coronavirus response”

Foreign PoliceDecember 22, 2020

“Sweden stayed open and more people died from Covid-19, but the real reason may be something darker”

ForbesJuly 7, 2020

“Sweden’s Covid-19 strategy has caused an ‘epidemic amplification'”

France 24May 17, 2020

“Sweden’s unconventional approach to Covid-19: what went wrong”

Chicago Policy Review, December 14, 2021

“Sweden has become the cautionary tale of the world”

The New York TimesJuly 7, 2020

These are just a few examples of the avalanche of criticism Sweden has received for not shutting down its economy like other governments around the world. A quick Google search will reveal dozens more.

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2020 and 2021 arguing that the media got Sweden wrong, pointing out that Sweden’s response resulted in an exponential number of deaths that modellers predicted and lower overall mortality than most European countries.

The BBC also noted that Sweden’s economy has not suffered as much as the economies of other European countries and, more importantly, as other countries implement more lockdown measures in 2021, daily deaths of COVID in Sweden had reached zero.

That was nearly 9 months ago, though. How does Sweden rank today compared to other European countries?

Like many countries, Sweden has seen cases rise with the arrival of Omicron, leading to a new wave of COVID deaths. However, the wave was much weaker than in other countries. In fact, Sweden’s overall COVID-19 death rate throughout the pandemic is one of the lowest rates you’ll find in all of Europe.

The purpose of sharing this information is not to take a victory lap. It’s about learning from the mistakes made during the pandemic.

In March 2020, when public health officials realized COVID-19 was deadlier than they previously thought, they panicked. Instead of following similar paths that humans had followed in previous pandemics, public health authorities decided to copy the strategy of China – one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet – and use the government to force entire sectors of the economy to shut down. (Americans were told it was only for 15 days to “flatten the curve,” which was quickly proven wrong.)

The strategy failed miserably. In study after study after study, studies have shown that lockdowns have failed to adequately protect populations, which is why non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) have been abandoned by countries around the world.

However, the closure of the company had serious and deadly consequences. The World Bank reported last year that global poverty had increased during the pandemic, with an additional 97 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. In the United States, 8 million more people fell into poverty in 2020, tens of millions lost their jobs and hundreds of thousands of businesses went bankrupt. To mitigate this damage, the government “flooded the system with money,” which led to soaring inflation. The losses went beyond the financial costs, of course. Cancer screenings have plummeted and drug overdoses have reached record levels, leading to countless deaths.

And on Tuesday, The New York Times revealed the latest unintended consequence of the government’s lockdown experiment: a new study shows alcohol-related deaths rose in 2020, up 25% from the previous year.

“The assumption is that there were a lot of people who were in recovery and had reduced access to support that spring and relapsed,” said Aaron White, one of the report’s authors and senior science adviser at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Public officials made two grave mistakes above all else in their response to the virus. The first assumed they had the knowledge and ability to contain a highly contagious respiratory virus through lockdowns and other NPIs.

Many world-renowned epidemiologists at the time, like Tegnell, saw the futility of such an approach.

“In early March 2020, when Italy and Iran began reporting large numbers of COVID deaths as the first countries outside of China, it was clear to any knowledgeable infectious disease epidemiologist that the virus would eventually spread to all parts of the world,” Martin Kulldorff, a biostatistician and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School from 2015 to 2021, said. “At the time, we only knew of a small proportion of the actual cases, so it was clear that it had already spread elsewhere and that trying to eliminate the disease with contact tracing would be futile. and locks.”

The second mistake officials made was to ignore the unintended consequences of their actions. Writer and economist Henry Hazlitt once pointed out that this is one of the permanent flaws in policy-making.

“[There’s a] persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy,” writes Hazlitt in Economics in a lesson“and to neglect to ask what the long-term effects of this policy will be not only on this particular group but on all groups”.

Hazlitt described this as “the error of overlooking secondary consequences”.

Anders Tegnell, the architect of the Swedish strategy who recently joined the World Health Organization, was one of the only public health officials in the world to recognize these secondary consequences, predicting that “the consequences of the closure economy [would] far outweigh the benefits.

Tegnell was right, the data shows. And critics of Swedish politics should recognize that.

This piece was originally published on FEE.org under the title, Sweden – once mocked for its COVID strategy – now has one of the lowest COVID death rates in Europe