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Coronavirus: Sweden becomes country with highest coronavirus deaths per capita – but keeps bars and restaurants open

UK toll closely follows Scandinavian nation

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 21 May 2020 16:01 BST
Social distancing measures comparatively relaxed in Sweden

Sweden, which has kept schools, bars, restaurants and shops open throughout the coronavirus crisis, has become the country with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world per capita over the last week, data shows.

The Scandinavian nation chose a different strategy to its European neighbours to combat the pandemic, based on voluntary measures of social distancing and basic hygiene.

But it has now recorded 6.25 deaths per million inhabitants per day in a rolling seven-day average between 12 May and 19 May, according to

This was the highest in Europe and just above the UK, which had 5.75 deaths per million and ahead of the United States, at 4.17.

However, deaths are on the decline and over the course of the pandemic, Sweden still has had fewer deaths per capita than the UK, Spain, Italy, Belgium and France – nations which opted for lockdowns.

But it has had a much higher toll than its neighbours, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

The Nordic country introduced “trust-based” measures, advising older people to avoid social contact and recommending people their wash hands often, social distance, work from home where possible and avoid travel.

Anders Tegnell, the country’s state epidemiologist, previously argued Sweden might weather a second wave of the virus better than other countries, because its measures can be kept in place for longer than the harsher lockdowns implemented throughout the world.

“We also have measures that we can keep on doing for a long time,” he said during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “So I think that’s the other part of our reasoning, that we want to have something sustainable if we need to continue this suppression and mitigation that we are doing right now.

“We can go on doing this for a long time since our schools are still open, most of our society is working but on an adapted level. So if it looks like we’re going to get a second wave in the autumn with a lot of cases, we could easily continue doing what we’re doing today.”

Sweden’s strategy has been criticised by some as a dangerous experiment with peoples lives, but it has also been put forward as a future model by the WHO.

Its open strategy appears to have softened the blow on the economy, with growth shrinking much less than in Denmark and Norway in the first quarter of the year.

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