Sweden’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic has been very unusual and it’s justification for continuing the policy is magical thinking.  They have relied on voluntary social distancing and “herd immunity” to solve their pandemic problem.  There are few words to adequately describe the tragedy unfolding in Sweden so I’ll just let these tables and graphs speak for themselves.

The figure above shows the progress of the infection in Sweden since the first case was confirmed on Feb 25th.  Since then the number of confirmed cases per day (brown squares) has increased steadily with no signs of stabilization.  The first death was reported on March 13th and with about a 10-day lag, it has tracked steadily upward every day since then.  The death count (shown as blue diamonds) is plotted on the right axis scaled to 16% of the case count on the left axis.  That means the fatality rate is roughly 16%.  This mortality rate is much higher than that for its Scandinavian neighbors, Denmark and Norway, and Finland (shown in the table below).  Sweden’s mortality rate may be so high because they are testing very little and missing many of the asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases (last column in the table below), but it’s hard to know for sure.  What is more certain is that their death per million citizens is also the highest, at 213 per million. 

InfectionsDeathsCurrent MortalityEstimated MortalityDeaths
Sweden       1,742    17,567   2,15212.3%16.3%       213   9,357
Denmark       1,419      8,210       4034.9%5.7%         70 21,638
Norway       1,360      7,361       1912.6%2.8%         35 28,614
Finland          793      4,395       1774.0%5.5%         32 13,446

The table also shows that Sweden’s infection rate as measured per million population is the highest and its death per million is also the highest.  Given that it has the poorest testing of the three Scandinavian countries, it is possible that its infection rate is even higher.  Of course, the Swedes don’t care about this because their aim is to get to “herd immunity.”  In fact, the country claims that their infection rate is much higher than that measured and will soon get them to “herd immunity” — generally acknowledged to require 60% of the population to be infected — in Stockholm in a few weeks and the rest of the country soon thereafter.  Having measured so poorly, I am not sure how they know this except with their own proprietary models.  In our estimate, they are picking up about 20% of all real cases so their real infection rate is 0.86% (far from the 60% required for herd immunity) and their real mortality rate is 3.3%.

The tragedy is that it didn’t have to turn out this way.  Sweden now has about 2000 more deaths than its neighbor Norway.  They both started out with mild infections in late February and Norway kept its infection and death counts controlled.  On the graph below, Sweden’s death count (brown squares) is plotted against the left axis and Norway’s (blued diamonds) is plotted against the right axis adjusted for Norway’s smaller total population.  The differences in the graphs are striking and widening. 

Sweden should serve as a cautionary tale for the eight states in the US that have not imposed statewide lockdowns.  They could wind up looking like Sweden rather than Norway.