In truth, it is conducting a real time social experiment and no one knows now how it will end
After seeing several Facebook posts, emails, and now NBC news specials about how Sweden is approaching the Covid-19 pandemic, I am left scratching my head. First let’s look at some numbers. As of my writing this today, April 28, 2020, and using The Covid-19 dashboard by Johns Hopkins University, there have been 19,621 cases there with 2355 deaths. That is a mortality of ~12%. Compare that with the USA where we have 989,357 and 56,386 deaths for a mortality of just under 6%. So Sweden’s mortality rate is about twice that of the USA. And that is in the context of their highly touted healthcare system. But lets’ dig a little bit deeper. The USA is number one in virus cases but is the third most populous country in the world. Sweden is number 23 on the list of most cases in the world but is 91st in the world population. Based on cases per capita however the percent of the population with positive cases is about the same, 0.2–0.3%. They are a bit behind in people tested per capita as the below graph shows.
So the problem is if you test less, as in this case with Sweden compared to the US, you will have less cases per million. There is a popular quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Although there is dispute as to the true author, that it is a matter for another time. Anyone who studies statistics long enough knows that almost any data and graphs can be shown in various ways and often to prove different points.
Sweden is not however shunning all aspects of social distancing and isolation. Rather, at least as I understand it, they are taking care to isolate the elderly and the higher risk individuals. No one, including doctors and scientists, now know if at the end of this pandemic, they will come out better than other countries with a more Draconian approach. Only time will tell. Their strategy is of course not without some risk. But NO approach to this disease is without risk. Do no preventive measures and clearly the immediate impact is a disaster for public health. Do too much, or too long, isolation and your economy tanks. At this point I believe no one knows what is the “sweet spot” or as in the Goldilocks story-”just right.” Countries are not always comparable. The US should not be compared with New Zealand which is smaller, buffered from other counties by water, and less reliant on air travel for self-sufficiency and business.
Time will reveal the answer. And until that time, I for one am unwilling to say now what Sweden is doing is smart or a harbinger for disaster.
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