MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s | Foreign Affairs

Posted by M. C. on May 12, 2020

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/sweden/2020-05-12/swedens-coronavirus-strategy-will-soon-be-worlds

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China placed 50 million people under quarantine in Wuhan Province in January. Since then, many liberal democracies have taken aggressive authoritarian measures of their own to fight the novel coronavirus. By mid-March, almost all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries had implemented some combination of school, university, workplace, and public transportation closures; restrictions on public events; and limits on domestic and international travel. One country, however, stands out as an exception in the West.

Rather than declare a lockdown or a state of emergency, Sweden asked its citizens to practice social distancing on a mostly voluntary basis. Swedish authorities imposed some restrictions designed to flatten the curve: no public gatherings of more than 50 people, no bar service, distance learning in high schools and universities, and so on. But they eschewed harsh controls, fines, and policing. Swedes have changed their behavior, but not as profoundly as the citizens of other Western democracies. Many restaurants remain open, although they are lightly trafficked; young children are still in school. And in contrast to neighboring Norway (and some Asian countries), Sweden has not introduced location-tracing technologies or apps, thus avoiding threats to privacy and personal autonomy.

Swedish authorities have not officially declared a goal of reaching herd immunity, which most scientists believe is achieved when more than 60 percent of the population has had the virus. But augmenting immunity is no doubt part of the government’s broader strategy—or at least a likely consequence of keeping schools, restaurants, and most businesses open. Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, has projected that the city of Stockholm could reach herd immunity as early as this month. Based on updated behavioral assumptions (social-distancing norms are changing how Swedes behave), the Stockholm University mathematician Tom Britton has calculated that 40 percent immunity in the capital could be enough to stop the virus’s spread there and that this could happen by mid-June.

Sweden has won praise in some quarters for preserving at least some semblance of economic normalcy and keeping its per capita death rate lower than those of Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. But it has come in for criticism in other quarters for exceeding the per capita death rates of other Nordic countries and in particular, for failing to protect its elderly and immigrant populations. People receiving nursing and elder-care services account for upward of 50 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden, according to Tegnell, in part because many facilities were grievously slow to implement basic protective measures such as mask wearing. Immigrants have also suffered disproportionately, mainly because they are poorer on average and tend to work in the service sector, where working remotely is usually impossible. But Swedish authorities have argued that the country’s higher death rate will appear comparatively lower in hindsight. Efforts to contain the virus are doomed to fail in many countries, and a large percentage of people will be infected in the end. When much of the world experiences a deadly second wave, Sweden will have the worst of the pandemic behind it….

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