Europe's COVID lockdown lessons

One theme is that politicians increasingly are alert to the health and economic dangers of mass lockdowns, including mass unemployment, missed education and psychological ills. Another theme is that European leaders are now more inclined to focus on individual responsibility than government action. “There is only so much a government can do,” Herman Goossens, coordinator of a European Union pandemic advisory panel, told the Journal this week. He suggests emphasizing steps individuals can take to control the virus’s spread, such as social distancing and mask wearing.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that has been Sweden’s approach throughout the pandemic—and Sweden is the conspicuous exception to Europe’s new coronavirus wave. The country eschewed a mandatory lockdown and instead urged prudent individual measures such as working from home when possible and maintaining social distancing.

While it suffered a higher death toll earlier in the crisis—concentrated, as elsewhere, in nursing homes—a second wave has yet to materialize there. If this trend continues, it will provide an important point in the debate over what, if anything, the spring’s lockdowns elsewhere accomplished.