Hard questions about hard lockdowns

Thanks to its constitution, Sweden has experienced COVID-19 caseloads comparable to those that would have occurred under hard lockdowns but has avoided much of the economic and associated collateral damage that comes with hard lockdowns.

In a way, hard lockdowns have been a device to avoid making the far tougher decision as to how to “live with” the virus. The cost of that evasion in economic and human terms has been enormous. And it seems to be all for relatively little, if any, medical advantage. What has always been needed is to strike a balance, something that the Swedes may still, in the end, have managed (and are still managing) to achieve.

This is not to minimize the losses that Sweden has incurred, but nor should the relative Swedish mortality rate when compared with other countries be exaggerated. As at the time of writing, Sweden ranks 27th in the world in per capita COVID-19 cases. Notably, Sweden sits behind myriad pro-lockdown states such as the U.S., Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, the U.K., and the Netherlands. As far as deaths per capita goes, Sweden ranks 23rd in the world — again, far behind numerous pro-lockdown countries, something difficult to square with the criticism of Sweden’s light-touch policies. It is true that Sweden has, relatively speaking, fared worse in this respect than its Nordic neighbors, but there are numerous explanations for this, ranging from (widely acknowledged) early mishandling of the virus in its eldercare homes to specific population density conditions in Stockholm, a city that accounts for nearly 10 percent of the country’s population — a figure that increases to around 17 percent, once nearby suburbs are factored in.