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Perhaps no nation has respected its citizens’ freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic more than Sweden. While Australia quarantines close contacts who test negative for the virus in fenced camps and Austria prepares to mandate vaccination for all adults on February 1, Sweden has spent two years informing its citizens on best practices — and respecting them to observe them. Throughout Sweden, schools have remained open, public health police have been absent from public life, and masks are virtually nowhere to be found. Supporters held Sweden up as a model for enlightened statesmanship; opponents worried the policy would turn the nation into a Scandinavian slaughterhouse. How have those measures fared compared to other nations?
How did Sweden respond to COVID-19?
At the outset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Sweden’s top health official, state epidemiologist Dr. Anders Tegnell, encouraged citizens to wash their hands regularly, observe social distancing, and limit contact with other people. Those who could worked from home. But Swedish police handed out virtually no citations to anyone caught violating his stipulations; Sweden trusted its citizens to do what is in their best interests.
Given the limited threat posed to schoolchildren, Sweden’s schools remained open for students through age 16. Secondary schools and universities switched to remote learning — but by June 15, 2020 the government announced “that upper secondary schools can return to regular instruction on the school premises.”
Not only did the government not mandate that people wear face masks, but some cities temporarily banned the use of masks and PPE. While its neighbors had temporary government lockdowns, Sweden never closed down businesses or public life.
Tegnell and other state authorities crafted the policies with the foresight that politicians could not legislate the COVID-19 pandemic out of existence in 15 days. “We will have the virus in our societies — nationally, globally — for many years. How are we going to live our lives for such a long time — and not just surviving, but living?” Sweden’s Health Minister, Lena Hallengren, told France 24 news. “I think that has been very crucial for the authorities.”
Some cite the fact that on January 12 the government reduced the number of people allowed to attend private gatherings from 50 to 20 as proof that the Swedish approach failed. What do the data say?
What were the results?
All in all, Sweden’s COVID-19 results remain firmly in the middle of the global pandemic, without many of the harms caused by overly zealous attempts to lock up Americans, of all ages and health statuses, in their homes.
Voluntarily compliance: Even without the threat of government force and coercion, Swedes voluntarily reduced their social interactions by 70%, according to Tegnell. Trusting citizens to govern themselves worked especially well in Sweden, a high-trust society that values conformity of action.
Economy: Sweden’s economy contracted by 2.9% in 2020, less than half the rate of decline suffered by the European Union as a whole (6.0%) or the United Kingdom, and less than the U.S.
Children’s health: “Closure or not of schools has had little if any impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school aged children in Finland and Sweden,” found a study from Sweden’s Public Health Agency of Sweden (the Folkhälsomyndigheten, or FoHM) in July 2020 — an assessment that held steady.
“Despite Sweden’s having kept schools and preschools open, we found a low incidence of severe Covid-19 among schoolchildren and children of preschool age during” the first year of the pandemic in 2020, a group of Swedish scientists wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine. “Among the 1.95 million children who were 1 to 16 years of age, 15 children had Covid-19, [Multisystem inflammatory syndrome], or both conditions and were admitted to an ICU, which is equal to 1 child in 130,000.”
That amounts to 0.0000077% of Sweden’s children. There have also been 15 deaths of children under the age of 20 (birth through 19), as of January 10, 2022.
Death rate: Sweden’s current COVID-19 death rate (151.91 per 100,000) is worse than Germany (139.92) but better than countries with much harsher lockdown policies, including the United States (261.32), Italy (235.84), the UK (229.49), and France (191.83).
Sweden’s COVID-19 death toll actually fell to statistical zero (less than one death on average for two weeks) from mid-July to early August. The United States had 329 deaths a day during the same period; the UK averaged 74 deaths a day.
Social cohesion: Swedes seem happier with their COVID-19 regimen than citizens of other nations, such as the thousands of Germans who closed out 2021 by protesting in the streets against the latest tightening of public health restrictions. Swedes have mostly eschewed the kinds of anti-lockdown protests have taken place everywhere from Finland, the Netherlands, and Australia to the United States.
Health care rationing claimed many Swedish lives — especially the elderly
The story of Sweden’s success has a horrifying component: Its national health care system rationed care, denying treatment to the elderly and overweight — the very people most vulnerable to dying from COVID-19.
Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare instructed hospitals to “professionally weigh the potential benefits” of providing care to patients. In practice, emergency rooms denied admission to elderly patients, sometimes as young as 65, or to anyone who had a Body-Mass Index over 40. Stuck in nursing homes, elderly patients received palliative care and morphine injections instead of potentially lifesaving oxygen and intravenous nutrition/hydration treatments.
In order to spare the nationalized health care system, Sweden’s nursing homes drugged the elderly and let them suffocate to death.
Juliana Jihem is one of the people who blew the whistle when her 72-year-old uncle, Moses Ntanda, died in a nursing home. “I felt that they sacrificed the elderly, and it’s very wrong, ‘cause I think that you should give everyone a chance to survive,” she told France 24.
“We did not manage to protect the most vulnerable people, the most elderly, despite our best intentions,” admitted then-Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
“Swedes pay some of the highest taxes on earth in exchange for extensive government services, including state-furnished health care,” reported The New York Times. Yet when those services were most needed, the government guidelines led care to be withheld and damned its elderly citizens to an excruciating death.
No nation with that on its conscience can call its approach a complete success.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.