Live free and die: Sweden’s coronavirus experience

All of this suggests that the degree of distancing that people will voluntarily do has turned out to be far greater than most analysts realised.

And with this large degree of voluntary distancing, Sweden has not done nearly as badly as many had feared. Does this mean Sweden has done well? Is Sweden a model that other countries could have followed, or could follow now by ending its own lockdowns suddenly?

Probably not. Sweden has fallen between two stools: because of voluntary social distancing, it has not achieved herd immunity, or anything like it, but it also has not suppressed the virus as countries that have had a lockdown have. According to a recent study by Sweden’s public health agency, only 7.3% of the population of Stockholm has Covid-19 antibodies (compared to a reported 17% of Londoners, for example), and only 15% at a Stockholm hospital (which can act as an upper bound, since healthcare workers are most likely to be exposed to the virus).

Sweden has also not been able to shield older people. Care home residents account for nearly half of Sweden’s Covid-19 deaths. So any hope that the country could allow younger people to catch it and keep older people safe seems dashed.

Since we now know the disease’s IFR is somewhere around 0.5-1%, it is hard to see how Sweden could achieve herd immunity without reaching the scale of deaths that people initially feared it would get without a lockdown.