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Sweden's Virus Approach: Nature's Way or Looming Disaster?

Nordic country has taken a lax approach to social distancing, other restrictions
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2020 2:23 PM CDT

(Newser) – As COVID-19 cases rise and countries continue their efforts to keep numbers down, a Monday article in the National Review is circulating with a headline that's piqued interest: "Has Sweden Found the Right Solution to the Coronavirus?" The country has done "almost no mandated social distancing," per the analysis by John Fund and Joel Hay, other than closing secondary schools and colleges and banning gatherings of more than 50 people; other schools remain open, as do parks, restaurants and bars, and stores. Fund and Hay are in favor. They point out that, in a nation with more than 10 million people, there were only 400 COVID-19-related deaths as of Monday. In short, they think much of the world is overreacting. Coverage:

  • More from Fund and Hay: How the National Review writers think this should play out: Let the young and healthy mix and mingle to develop antibodies and herd immunity, while vulnerable people are isolated to avoid getting sick. "Nature's got this one, folks," they write. "We've been coping with new viruses for untold generations. ... As time passes, it will become clearer that [strict] social-isolation measures accomplish very little in terms of reducing fatalities or disease, though they crater local and national economies—increasing misery, pain, death, and disease from other causes as people's lives are upended and futures are destroyed."
  • Not so fast: Gabriel Leigh of Forbes, however, writes that Sweden's approach "is beginning to look like a mistake." As of Friday afternoon, the nation's death toll had jumped to nearly 900, per Johns Hopkins University. Plus, Leigh notes the country's death rate is climbing faster than some of its Nordic neighbors. ICU admissions are also increasing more quickly than they are in Finland and Norway.
  • A warning from WHO: The World Health Organization isn't keen on Sweden's tack, telling CNN on Wednesday it's "imperative" that the country "increase measures to control spread of the virus, prepare and increase capacity of the health system to cope, ensure physical distancing, and communicate the why and how of all measures to the population."

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  • A Trump slam: The US president has criticized Sweden's approach, echoing remarks that the country is trying for herd immunity. "Sweden did that, the herd, they call it the herd. Sweden's suffering very, very badly," Trump said Tuesday.
  • Irritation at Trump: Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde dismisses the criticism, saying Trump made a "factual error" in describing what Sweden is doing as an attempt at herd immunity, Bloomberg reports. "We rely very much on people taking responsibility themselves," she says, per CNN. Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at Sweden's Public Health Agency, concurs: "So far Swedish health care is handling this pandemic in a fantastic way."
  • More pushback from the government: NPR spoke with Tegnell, who scoffed at more rigid school closures and similar tough restrictions and said what Sweden's doing now is "sustainable." When told by host Stacey Vanek Smith that sheltering seems to be the agreed-upon scientific way to save lives, Tegnell said: "I'm not sure that there is a scientific consensus on ... anything when it comes to this new coronavirus, basically because we don't have much evidence for any kind of measures we are taking."
  • A 'troubled' blueprint? Alex Ward at Vox thinks the Swedish strategy is an iffy one that could "backfire," noting that multiple experts he spoke to said up to 40% of Sweden's 10 million people could contract COVID-19. And because the jury's still out on how effective the country's lax methods will be, many citizens feel they're being used as "guinea pigs"—and don't like it. "I didn't sign my informed consent for this experiment," a Karolinska Institute virologist tells him. "I don't know if [my family and I] can stay in a country that is not protecting its population."
  • The big test: To know which side is right, check back on Sweden's stats next month, notes CNN.
(Read more Sweden stories.)

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