As much of the world navigates the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden took an unconventional approach in tackling COVID-19. The country never officially entered lockdown and has allowed schools, restaurants and most businesses to stay open as usual. Even crowded places like nightclubs have kept operations going with the extent of social distancing kept at only an arm’s length rather than a distance of six feet.
This is a stark difference from the social distancing policy in the U.S.; rather than enforcing social distancing rules for all citizens, Sweden is putting an emphasis on solely sheltering the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. This way, the less vulnerable people may contract the virus, keeping the most at-risk people safe.
According to worldometers.info, the average death rate in the U.S. from April 21 to May 18 was 1,448 – a 34.42% decrease. However, in Sweden, the average number of deaths over a seven day period only averaged 107, a decrease of 41.25% during that same time period. While both countries have seen a decline in death rates, Sweden’s numbers have been decreasing significantly faster.
This result is not only surprising given Sweden’s methods for virus prevention, but that roughly 70 percent of the country’s population lives in metropolitan regions. Major cities across the U.S. have been some of the hardest-hit regions, including New Orleans, Los Angeles, Miami and the global epicenter of the virus, New York City. Despite strict stay-at-home orders mandated in March by Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York state has logged over 350,000 COVID-19 cases and a death toll approaching 23,000.
Swedish officials have defended their approach that vastly opposes the U.S. and other European epicenters like Italy, Spain and the U.K.
“We set out from the start realizing that this is not going to be a sprint. This is going to be a marathon,” Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin told the BBC. “I think it’s a great myth that Sweden hasn’t really taken very serious steps to try to address this very very serious pandemic.”
Lovin acknowledged that every country needs to take into account its own traditions and lifestyles in outlining preventative steps, but said that ultimately, being too harsh on restrictions won’t be able to last long-term and the Swedish government does not want to fatigue its residents with such measures.
“I think it’s a real fear that if you have too harsh measures, then they can’t be sustained over time and you can get a counter-reaction and people would not respect the voluntary recommendations that will need to be respected for a very long time until we have a vaccine or until we know when this pandemic is going to end.”
This week marks the partial reopening for all 50 U.S. states with Connecticut being among the final states to loosen its restrictions. Governor Ned Lamont (D-CT) acknowledged the idea that the virus is easily contactable in closed settings and as a part of his plan to reopen the state, he will allow restaurants to implement “soft openings” – as long as patrons sit outside.
“I think we are one of the earlier states to allow outside dining,” Lamont told the CT Post. “Why outside, not inside? You’re 90 percent more likely to catch the infection inside than you are outside, following even some of the best protocols.”
Lamont said restaurants can hold “soft openings” starting May 20. If the opening is successful, diners might be allowed to eat inside by June 20, or earlier, which Lamont notes is “a matter of giving the consumers confidence.”