(Reuters) – Sweden has avoided the strict lockdowns that negatively affected most countries, but has managed to emerge from 2020 with a smaller rise in its mortality rate than most European countries, an analysis of official data sources showed.
Infectious disease experts alert the results should not be perceived as evidence that lockdowns were unnecessary but acknowledged they may point out Sweden’s overall stance on fighting the pandemic had merits worth examining.
In the past week, Germany and France have extended lockdowns due to rise in coronavirus cases and high death tolls. Economists say these actions will further delay economic recovery.
As other methods have failed most Europeans have accepted lockdowns as the last resort to bring the situation under control. However, these measures have in recent months incited street protests in London, Amsterdam and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Sweden has mostly relied on voluntary measures focused on good hygiene, social distancing, and targeted rules that have kept schools, restaurants and shops mostly open. This approach has immensely polarized Swedes but saved the economy from a serious hit suffered elsewhere in Europe.
Preliminary data from EU statistics agency Eurostat collected by Reuters showed Sweden had 7.7 per cent more deaths in 2020 than its average for the last four years. Countries that used several periods of strict lockdowns to tackle the situation, such as Spain and Belgium, had added mortality of 18.1 per cent and 16.2 per cent respectively.
Twenty-one of the 30 European countries with available statistics had higher excess mortality than Sweden. However, Sweden had a much higher rate than its Nordic neighbours, with Denmark reporting just 1.5 per cent excess mortality and Finland 1.0 per cent. Norway did not have an excess mortality at all in 2020.
Sweden’s excess mortality was also reported at the low end of the spectrum in a different tally of Eurostat and other data released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics last week.
The analysis included an adjustment to consider for differences in both the age structures and seasonal mortality patterns of countries analyzed. It placed Sweden on the 18th in the list of 26. Poland, Spain and Belgium topped the list.
Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, a largely unknown figure pre-pandemic, who became internationally recognized as the figurehead of the Swedish response, said he believed the data raised doubts about the effectiveness of lockdowns.
“I think people will probably think very carefully about these total shutdowns, how good they really were,” he said.
“They may have had an effect in the short term, but when you look at it throughout the pandemic, you become more and more doubtful,” Tegnell said.