Graph shows Sweden’s coronavirus death toll rapidly increasing compared to other countries

Prime minister opts against strict lockdown in contrast to neighbours

Jack Rathborn
Friday 17 April 2020 16:41 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Alarming data has shown Sweden’s approach to containing coronavirus has led to a far greater number of fatalities than their Nordic neighbours.

As a result of the spiralling numbers, the country's prime minister, Stefan Lofven, has received criticism for his government’s light-touch strategy to contain Covid-19.

There have been 13,216 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Sweden, a country of just over 10 million, with 1,400 deaths as of Friday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With the total number of death exceeding the sum of their neighbours combined: Denmark (321), Norway (152) and Finland (75).

While Sweden’s total fatalities per-million (118) is also concerning when compared to their neighbours: Denmark has suffered 55 deaths per million, while Finland’s rate is just 13 - with both nations implementing strict early lockdowns in an effort to limit the spread of the pathogen.

Sweden has experienced a sharp rise in fatalities due to the coronavirus (Our World in Data)

In fact, their per-million total is considerably higher than Germany (42), though lower than the UK (182) and significantly lower than both Italy (349) and Spain (399).

“If you compare to the closest comparable countries, Norway, Denmark and Germany, we’re doing worse,” Dr Olle Häggström, a professor in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Gothenburg, told The Independent.

“We have more deaths, which I think is the most reliable statistic, because if you look at the total number infected, a lot can depend on how you test.

“It’s reasonable to be concerned about the strategy, but at the same time we don’t know that it’s wrong in the long run. The worry from the Swedish health authorities is that if you put too strict measures on our society it will be impossible to uphold in the long run. It’s a marathon.”

Sweden’s approach appears to stem from “cultural norms”, according to Dr Carina King, an epidemiologist working at the Karolinska Institute, with Swedes predicted to follow recommendations and trust the authorities.

The government has tasked their population with judging social distancing for themselves, with restaurants and businesses remaining open and no restrictions placed on how often or for what reason people decide to leave their homes.

Academics have voiced their anger at the approach, with Bo Lundback, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Gothenburg, accusing the government of “stupidity” for not believing the epidemic would reach the country.

Other critics of the approach include Dr Cecilia Soderberg Naucler, an expert in microbial pathogenesis at the Karolinska Institute, who is bracing herself for a “catastrophe”.

“I’m a scientist, I only trust data and the data says we are heading for catastrophe,” Dr Naucler said. “We are now part of an experiment without informed consent.”

But despite the escalating numbers, polling suggests Mr Lofven retains support, having imposed restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people, while limiting bars and restaurants to only table service.

And even though Dr Häggström admits he is “worried” about the statistical trend in Sweden, he insists the country’s unique approach is offering others an opportunity to learn.

“Regardless of whether it’s good for Sweden or not, it can be good for the world that different countries are employing different strategies which gives us the opportunity to compare,” Dr Häggström added. “If everybody does the same thing, then there’s less to learn, but, yes, I am worried​.”

Mr Lofven, meanwhile, has confirmed a 30-day extension to the country’s entry ban for those from outside the EEA and Switzerland, though Swedish citizens and residents are still permitted to enter.

“It is still far too early to ease restrictions and recommendations. Even though the sun is shining and you gave up your Easter holiday, it is not the time to celebrate 1 May (a public holiday in Sweden),” Mr Lofven said.

“Keep in mind that this is not about you but about everyone’s well-being. For the rest of our lives, we will remember spring 2020 as the time we all shared burdens and made sacrifices for each other.

“It is not possible to say how long, but it is better to mentally adjust to months, not weeks. It is about flattening the curve; then the healthcare system will be able to cope [with the number of cases] but it will take a longer time [for Sweden to get back to normal].”

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