Sweden didn't have a full-scale lockdown and now its Covid death rate is 10 times greater than Norway's

We had a foreign exchange student named Tom during my junior year of high school. Sadly, of Sweden, not Finland.


Reporting factual data about the spread of the virus isn’t a “game.” This isn’t about taking “sides” except insomuch as one side has decided to politicize the pandemic.

The job of the researchers, the media and the policy makers isn’t to meet the anti-vaxxers/anti-social-distancing/Covid-denier crowd somewhere in the middle. Their job is to gather the most reliable information on the virus and how it spreads as they can and respond accordingly.


Man, I know what you mean. I got up today and both sides started complaining about both sides complaining.

Good thing there are facts and the consequences of different actions are plain to see.


conan obrien finland GIF by Team Coco


This was already the case last year; Sweden jumped out ahead very early in the infection and death statistics because they had much worse early nursing home infections than we did in Norway (where I was living at the time), and then stayed ahead in 2020 (probably) because of the lack of lockdown.

The irony is that Sweden’s policies were created and implemented by scientists, not politicians. Sweden’s political leaders gave epidemiologist Tegnell and his office full control over decisions over the Covid strategy.


That’s not true at this moment; Sweden and Norway are both averaging between 0 and 2 deaths/day, and Sweden’s population is several times that of Norway. However, for sure Sweden had massively more cases and deaths per capita than Norway over the first half of 2020, so much so that the data from that period still dominates all comparisons.


It’s also critical not to see it as a simple bloc of hardcore deniers who are the issue. There are many millions of antivaxxers who are hardcore freaks, but there are also millions of nonvaccinated people who can flip given the right combination of incentives, pressure and information.

There are people who are simply tuned out of even the most basic news. There are people who will do it if work requires it. There are people who are just trying to evade detection by controlling family members. There are people who are ashamed they didn’t get it sooner.

The provaccine side cannot afford to cede any ground. Even if they get to the point where 25% of the population is unvaccinated and it’s 22% hardcore antivax and only 3% uninformed/lazy/high barrier ambivalent people, it’s still critical to get that 3%.In the US that is 10 million people. Getting shots into those people can save many thousands of lives.


It’s a weird universe we live in where the right wing claims everything is great in socialist Sweden.


IMO Swedish politicians had the right attitude in letting the scientists formulate the response.

Now if they could just keep that attitude but hire better scientists…


Sweden also had some really bad luck. We had winter holidays at just the wrong week so when cases exploded in skiing resorts in Italy and Austria lots of Swedes were there and got infected, bringing the disease home with them. Combine that with low supplies of protective gear and bad management in nursing homes and the stuation got out of control from the start.

What Finland did right was keeping the attitude from the cold war that you needed supplies of everything, just in case, while Sweden decided that from then on nothing bad would happen and scrapped old supplies. Norway had a lot more doctors in their nursing homes.

Sweden had a high peak of excess mortality around April 2020, and a slightly smaller one in December, but since end of January mortality has been the same or lower than normal years. On the other hand, infection rates are going up at the moment, although almost only the unvaccinated seems to be getting seriously ill.


That’s the rub though, isn’t it? We’d all like to have at our beck and call people who would tell us what the right thing to do is; what the safest, most humane, most efficient and helpful thing to do is. And for those people to be right. In foresight and in retrospect.

No such people exist.


The exact thing happened in Norway, pretty much all of the first knowns cases were imported from Austria, so this is not relevant to the comparison.


It was a different week (maybe one earlier?) in Sweden. That doesn’t seem like it should be significant, but I remember some convincing back-of-the-envelope calculations last year that said otherwise; the extra week right when people were coming to grips with the problem was massive. (However, the difference in the nursing home situation, as well as the quick, serious lockdown in Norway, were clearly the bulk of the difference.)

The shutdown in Norway took place right in the middle of the Holmenkollen ski festival, which really should have been a superspreader event, but somehow wasn’t. Of course, it wasn’t the skiing that spread the disease in Northern Europe, but those wild Tyrolean nightclubs and apres-ski bacchanals.


FWIW, an old relative of mine, great grand uncle I think, was the equivalent of the surgeon general for Oslo when the Spanish flu hit. His policy was almost ad verbatim the same as Tegnell. Like Tegnell he stuck to his theory for the duration of his appointment, and like Tegnell he calmly stated that he was perfectly open to being replaced should others disagree. Unsurprisingly, the situation improved as soon as they eventually got rid of him.

EDIT: Correction; I re-read the article, turns out he stayed in the job, but accepted being overruled. The subsequent closures of schools and cinemas etc ruled by the politicians did have the desired effect however.
Seeing as he was still in the job he finally did do some good by recommending the policy of providing every family with half a bottle of cognac to cope with the hardship. No need for messy paperwork, as everyone already had a bread ration card they could just show this to the grocer, who would give you the congnac and then cut off a corner of the ticket.


No, Florida is still worse.Sweden took a light-handed approach, but Florida is going all out to prevent anyone from doing anything. Even Sweden wasn’t that stupid.


That’s a little disingenuous. No epidemiologists or public health experts outside Sweden agreed that zero lockdowns were a good idea. Quite the opposite- prevailing scientific opinion is that the more lockdowns, the better. A prominent US epidemiologist said, “if I could magically freeze everyone in place for 14 days, COVID would be gone forever”. She was right because we know how viruses work and how much lockdowns help.

Framing the Swedish approach as “they tried their best but nobody could have known!” is not being intellectually honest.


Sweden implemented policies despite the consensus opinion of the scientific community being that it was a terrible idea. That the policies were implemented by an epidemiologist doesn’t change that

Science is inherently democratic; there is always disagreement and debate amongst scientists, but what most relevant experts agree on becomes “true” at the time. Tegnell was pushing ideas that the overwhelming majority of relevant experts thought was a bad idea. It was also an appealing idea for politicians that wanted not to close businesses.


my impressions from what i read was a pretty cavalier, “we know best” attitude from their top science guy. and it seemed that his attitude led the science in this case.

where, instead, because it was a new disease, seemed to spread very fast, and because we have had very few recent parallels - being cautious and careful, admitting how much wasnt known, seemed best

so i guess id say, maybe it was attitude and not lack of scientific acumen that was to blame

i don’t know. like there’s man-splaining, and there’s science-man-splaining. he and his team’s attitude seemed a lot of that.


I’d describe Tegnell’s approach as “only do things we have scientific evidence will help”. With a new disease there was little evidence for anything. It’s still not easy trying to figure out why some countries got hit hard and some didn’t. Similar policies seems to have had very different outcomes.

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This is basically the same thing politicians do with other hot-button issues like climate change.

If the consensus of the scientific community is that the situation demands action that will be difficult or unpopular, then the politicians will shop around until they find a scientist who is either willing to tell them what they want to hear or at least advise against taking action “until we have more data.”


As the man said, “NEVER get off the boat”.