Sweden Might Avoid a Second Wave, But at What Cost?

Sweden Might Avoid a Second Wave, But at What Cost?

Sweden has taken a notably lax approach to dealing with Coronavirus, avoiding lockdowns and trying to act as if all were normal. However, this apparent indifference to the worldwide pandemic has born costs to Sweden’s international reputation, and the economic benefits appear somewhat smaller than hoped.

Throughout the last several months, Sweden has taken a controversially laid-back approach to handling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, choosing not to implement a lock-down or enforce mask-wearing like most other states. Instead, the government has relied on an open-policy of simple social distancing based on individual responsibility. 

When residents of Italy and Spain were living under enforced quarantines in May, Swedes were going about their lives as normal: using public transport, eating out, and shopping as though nothing were different. Yet, whilst other European states are currently experiencing a rise in new cases, Sweden appears to have been spared this “second wave”, suggesting that perhaps this lax approach was right all along. 

State epidemiologist Anders Tengell has claimed that the pandemic is a marathon not a sprint, and argued that these simple guidelines can stay in place for longer periods of time. Tegnell stated: “This is not a disease we’re going to get rid of, so we need to keep it at a manageable level”. He believes that going in and out of lockdowns is unlikely to work if the aim is to live with the virus until a vaccine is found. Rather, the country has opted for sustainable policies that citizens could live with for years, if necessary. 

Economics – worth it?

In terms of the economy, Sweden has fared better than most European nations. There has still been a dramatic downturn, with an 8.6% drop between April and June. Yet, Sweden is doing better than Southern Europe, where states like Spain and Italy have seen a contraction of 18.5% and 12.4% respectively. In comparison to these countries, Sweden’s economy has likely benefited from being less reliant on the hotel and restaurant sectors. However, the country is not immune to global developments, and a worldwide lack of demand for exports has naturally affected Sweden’s GDP. 

Critics of Tegnell point to Sweden’s death-toll, which is much higher than other Scandinavian nations. While Sweden has a total death count of 5,878, Norway and Finland only have 270 and 343 respectively. This disproportionate number was mainly attributed to the shabby state of Swedish nursing homes and elder care. However, while Norway and Finland have experienced a rise in cases post-lockdown, Sweden has yet to see a second wave. In recent months, the death-toll has decreased dramatically. Tegnell has stated that due to the consistency of Sweden’s policies, a second wave is unlikely. 

In August, studies showed that exposure rates were similar in London and Stockholm, despite the former having undergone strict lockdowns. Clinical Epidemiologist Helena Nordenstedt claims that since Swedes have had a longer adjusting period to social distancing procedures, this could help avoid a second wave, yet she also contends that it is too early to tell. 

A Social Distinction?

Smaller local outbreaks are expected as high schools and universities open up, but this has already appeared to be on a smaller scale than other countries. Comparatively, countries that have undergone lockdowns will likely see greater fluctuations in cases, as society adapts to physical distancing regulations. If there is a second wave internationally, then this might suggest that Sweden’s handling of the pandemic was not as reckless as its critics claimed. The key to combatting the pandemic might in fact be consistency. 

The recent relative success of Sweden’s handling of the pandemic can in part be attributed to the country’s culture. Sweden is sparsely populated, and its population is quite young. In comparison to other nations, there is less socialising between generations and a natural respect for personal space. The people trust the government to create reasonable policies, while the government in turn trusts that the people follow its recommendations. This overall respect for rules has helped Sweden maintain a sense of consistency when combating the virus. 

International reputation: collateral damage

However, despite this, Sweden’s international reputation has undoubtedly taken a hit in the past few months. As Sweden’s death toll rose, relations between Scandinavian states quickly soured. When Norway, Denmark, and Finland opened their borders in June, they excluded Sweden due to its comparatively high infection rate. Many other European states followed suit and barred Swedes from entering. Danish media has used Swedish statistics as an example of “what not to do”. Swedish foreign secretary Ann Linde has stated that she’s “worried about how long these wounds will last”.

Although Sweden’s reputation was scarred by the government’s controversial decision to not lockdown, the country appears to be in recovery mode. The government recently passed a historic bill which designates 105 billion kronor to the creation of jobs and boosting the welfare system. Pre-pandemic, Sweden’s economy was already fairly healthy, and thus well-equipped to deal with the financial aftermath of the coronavirus. 

If Tegnell’s policies are in fact as sustainable as he claims, and Sweden manages to avoid a large-scale second wave, then the country’s international image will likely recover in the near future. Other nations may even follow suit and imitate Sweden’s policies should they prove successful. Of course, it is too early to tell, and scientists claim that only in a few years time will we really know what the right approach to tackling this unprecedented pandemic was.

Categories: Covid-19, Europe

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