Sweden’s approach to COVID-19 reflects the country’s distinctive culture, and aspects of it may not be easy to replicate elsewhere. In particular, reliance on official recommendations and individual responsibility may not travel well beyond Scandinavia. Sweden is a special country characterized by high levels of trust—not just between people but between people and government institutions. Swedes were primed to take voluntary recommendations seriously in a way that citizens of other nations may not be.

Swedes are also generally healthier than citizens of many other countries, so additional precautions may be necessary to protect the infirm in other parts of the world. Countries lifting restrictions should also learn from Sweden’s missteps when it comes to the elderly and immigrants: masks and other protective equipment should be made immediately available in nursing homes, and greater emphasis should be placed on protecting service-sector workers who are at higher risk because of age or infirmity. But the emphasis must be on helping at-risk people stay safe and out of harm’s way, not locking entire societies down.