When the coronavirus outbreak began, Sweden went its own way. Instead of ordering a lockdown, the government asked its people for voluntary compliance with social distancing guidelines. Schools, restaurants, and bars stayed open. The results of the strategy have been mixed, with Sweden's death toll by percentage of population higher than nearby nations' but below that of Britain and Spain, for example. But in raw numbers, the government has now reported the level of loss: It recorded a total of 51,405 deaths in the first half of the year, the highest toll in the first six months since more than 55,000 people died in 1869 during a famine, per CNN. The figure is up about 15% over last year, and about 5,800 of the deaths are attributed to COVID-19.
Anders Tegnell, the government's chief epidemiologist, has said, "There are things that we could have done better, but in general I think that Sweden has chosen the right way." There's evidence the approach didn't do much for the economy, either. Sweden's GDP contracted 8.6% in the second quarter, per the Guardian, while Finland's dropped 5%. Norway, which also enacted tougher restrictions, reports about a total 260 COVID-19 deaths among a population about half of Sweden's. Tegnell said Sweden still doesn't recommend wearing face masks because that could encourage risky behavior, per the Financial Times. "Face masks can be a complement to other things," he said. "But to start with having face masks and then think you can crowd your buses or your shopping malls—that's definitely a mistake." (Read more coronavirus stories.)