DID SWEDEN BLUNDER? Or did everyone else?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the world's governments have gone to unheard-of lengths to keep people apart and try to slow the spread of the virus. Schools and businesses have been shuttered, public gatherings banned, construction projects halted, restaurants darkened, air travel grounded, borders locked. Tens of millions of "nonessential" workers have been furloughed or laid off. Leaders worldwide have made the wrenching decision to incur a devastating economic recession in order to prevent a devastating death toll.
But not in Sweden.
In Scandinavia's most populous nation, life has continued more or less normally. Only public gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Grade schools and day care are still open. So are parks, restaurants, stores. Streets are still full of people. Swedish health officials have advised residents older than 70 to stay home and emphasized the importance of hand washing. But unlike elsewhere, their public messaging has not reflected frantic desperation.
Why has Sweden adopted an approach so different from other nations? Not because the country has been untouched by COVID-19. Far from it: As of Tuesday, it had recorded 7,693 confirmed cases and 591 deaths. Sweden's coronavirus death rate (fatalities per million residents) is 59 — markedly higher than that in the other Scandinavian countries, all of which are enforcing stiff social-distancing restrictions. Then again, Sweden's infection and death rates are far lower than in Switzerland, a country of comparable population that is in lockdown.
Such widely divergent results help explain why Sweden's health authorities, led by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, have charted a different course. . . .