As COVID-19 sparked the strict imposing of social distancing measures across Europe, many cast a jealous eye at Sweden, where primary and junior high schools, gyms, bars and restaurants are still open. Not only this, but the infection rates are stable. Figures from John Hopkins University indicate Sweden has so far only had 1937 deaths compared with 25085 in Italy. Yet before we go cheering the Swedish approach as the way forward for everyone, let’s consider the following three points.
It's hard to compare different countries with different cultures
Firstly, we cannot compare different countries, seeing as each have a different culture. Sweden has a lower death rate from the virus than some other European countries, yes, but the death rate is still high compared to the population. Statistics can be misleading.
Second is Sweden’s lifestyle. In Sweden, there is a high level of institutional trust, meaning they are more likely to follow government guidelines without legislation. So, people are containing the disease by travelling a lot less without being told to do so. It is also easier for Swedes to maintain social distancing since, according to Bloomberg, more than half of Swedish households are single-person and more people work from home in Sweden than anywhere else in Europe. This makes their situation very different from that in the UK, for example.
"It's a myth that life goes on as normal in Sweden" - Ann Linde, Swedish Foreign Minister, speaking on Radio Sweden
Finally, life is not as easy in Sweden as it may appear. Far from parties and revelling, contributors for the The Guardian living in Sweden write, "the reality is a more sombre balance between distancing and the remaining freedoms to move about". There is also controversy as many experts oppose the approach. As the Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said to Radio Sweden: "It’s a myth that life goes on as normal in Sweden".
In conclusion, while this lax approach to tackling the virus may be working for Sweden (although it still has a high death rate), we would have to think very carefully before applying it to any other country.
Ella McCaffrey's analysis of the Swedish approach is available here.