Research by Michael Barber, an advisor to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Idris Jala, who had a similar role with former Malaysian Rrime Minister Najib Razak, in a new study argued that the ideal Covid-19 response was a mix of New Zealand, Denmark, and Uganda. The pair also ranked countries on how they have recovered from the pandemic, listing Thailand and South Korea in the top two (as of August 5th).
Tyler Cowen, an economist from George Mason University, looked at the situation differently, arguing that the UK, a country Barber and Jala ranked at 28th, has had the best response to the coronavirus because of its innovation during the coronavirus. Cowen argues that while the UK’s public health response has been “generally poor”, its research strides put it over the top as its researchers have discovered the best mortality reducing treatment in dexamethasone and have produced the vaccine furthest in development in the Oxford vaccine.
Today, I would like to put forward a country of my own, who in the coming months I believe will be best suited to fight off the last of the pandemic and whose general strategy will end up being adopted by many countries.
Sweden’s coronavirus strategy has been controversial from the start, as the country has been criticized by many from the start. And while several of these criticisms have some validity, many fail to see the big picture of Sweden’s coronavirus strategy.
From the start, Sweden’s coronavirus strategy has been about the long term rather than the short term, arguing that fighting the pandemic would be a marathon rather than a sprint. Surprising many, the country refused to go into lockdown as the coronavirus made landfall; instead, focusing on attaining herd immunity. Contrary to other countries, many shops, restaurants, and even schools remained open from the start of the pandemic, as Sweden issued only voluntary social distancing mandates and banned larger gatherings.
In the beginning, this strategy to many looked like an abject failure. Compared to its Nordic counterparts, Sweden saw higher case counts and deaths, providing fuel for critics to double down on their distaste of their strategy. Finland, for example, had recorded 10 times fewer deaths on a per capita basis than Sweden in April and many argued that this trend would only continue if Sweden did not radically change its strategy.
As the pandemic progressed, though, this strategy started showing more and more success. Despite the country’s relatively loose restrictions, case and death counts steadily began to fall. Still, its positive results lagged behind its Nordic counterparts.
In fact, only recently has Sweden’s strategy proven to have some success. Case counts continue to fall and daily deaths are now in the single digits. But these positive results are not why I believe Sweden has had the best Covid-19 response. After all, numerous countries such as Taiwan, New Zealand, and Sweden’s Nordic counterparts have experienced low case and death counts and even further, did not take such a heavy public health hit in the beginning of the pandemic. Sweden current coronavirus numbers are admirable, but this is not what makes the country stand out. The country separates itself from the pack because it has set itself up to ward off the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
We are currently seeing a major surge of Covid-19 cases worldwide. Countries that are experiencing rapid rises in cases include Italy, Israel, China, Iran, Turkey, Denmark, the US, Uganda, and the UK, all countries that chose to fight the pandemic with a lockdown. I don’t believe Sweden will be added to this list. The coronavirus has proven to be contagious enough to survive lockdowns, which have only prolonged the viruses spread rather than prevent it. Luckily for the Swedish, their country didn’t lockdown.
Based on the current data, it seems like in order to beat the virus a large portion of the population must have immunity, which can only be attained by contracting the virus or via a vaccine, something that at best is months away. Many countries, who have been in and out of lockdowns, seem to be far from this level as cases surge and the virus continues to spread. One of the few countries that does? Sweden.
While there are contradicting studies over the level of immunity Sweden has, the results speak for themselves. The relatively low amount of Covid-19 restrictions in the country has remained mostly the same since the beginning of the pandemic, yet case counts and deaths continue to spiral downwards (see below graphs). Low case counts and deaths show the viruses spread has slowed, most likely due to the country’s high immunity levels. And as of right now, it seems that Sweden has warded off the pandemic by attacking the virus head on, rather than attempting to avoid it.
By attacking the pandemic head on, Sweden has already dealt with the hardest part of the pandemic, while countries that have locked seem to only have delayed the inevitable spread of Covid-19, all while upending normal life.
And while Sweden’s coronavirus response hasn’t been perfect — its failure to close nursing homes earlier was a major blunder as half of Sweden’s Covid-19 related deaths occurred in nursing homes until June. Neither is it currently a major statistical outlier in terms of total cases or deaths — its Nordic neighbors, for example, which all went into lockdown, have fewer deaths per capita. I believe as the pandemic progresses, Sweden’s overall strategy will prove to be one of the few successful ones
Moreover, Sweden’s head on approach to the pandemic has helped limit the economic impact of the pandemic as well. This year Sweden’s 2nd quarter GDP fell by 8.6%, its worst in modern history, but far less severe than much of the world. The Eurozone and the United States, for example, contracted by 12.1% and 32.9%, respectively. The lighter GDP contraction also occurred despite the Swedish government spending far less on Coronavirus relief than the likes of the Eurozone and the United States. The Swedish government spent around $30 billion to combat the pandemic, while the Eurozone spent $860 billion and the United States $2 Trillion. On a per-capita basis, the Swedes spent around $300 per capita, while the Eurozone and the United States spend around $2,000 and $6,000 per capita. These figures don’t even include the economic stimulus that individual Eurozone countries spent prior to the Eurozone’s stimulus package, the extra social security payments the US handed out in response to the pandemic, or the imminent second stimulus package the US government is currently working on.
Past the economic and public health side of the pandemic, another factor working in favor of the Swedish strategy is the mental health aspect of the pandemic. Since the pandemic started, non-prescribed drug use, alcohol sales, overdoses, suicides, and divorces have all risen in the United States, all indicators of a country’s mental wellbeing. In Sweden, though, dramatic rises in the aforementioned mental health indicators have failed to materialize.
Navigating the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be an extremely difficult task, as policymakers must draft policy that takes into account public health, economics, and a country’s overall wellbeing. And while only time will tell who really came out on top of the pandemic as any current comparisons are half-complete, I believe that of the few countries whose strategies will prove successful, Sweden will be one of them. The government’s strategy of sacrificing the short term for the long term has worked tremendously in its favor and as the pandemic progresses this will only become more obvious.