It’s now clear that the Covid doomsayers got Sweden completely wrong. The country hasn’t merely not done badly in terms of mortality; it’s done exceptionally well. Between January 3rd 2020 and June 18th 2021, the country had negative excess mortality – it actually saw fewer deaths than usual.
Of course, for those who believe that lockdown is all that stood between the NHS and an unstoppable tidal wave of Covid patients, this result does not compute. ‘But its neighbours did even better!’ they shout.
Yes, the other Nordic countries had excess mortality that was even more negative. But this response doesn’t even come close to salvaging the case against Sweden.
First, it was mainly through border controls, not lockdowns, that the other Nordics avoided a major epidemic. And this strategy probably wasn’t open to Sweden anyway, due to its larger size and greater connectedness.
Second, it’s one thing to argue lockdowns are needed to prevent a very large rise in mortality; it’s quite another to argue they’re needed to ensure that mortality falls by a large amount.
The ‘neighbours argument’ basically amounts to the claim that Sweden should have undertaken the greatest infringement of civil liberties in modern history to ensure that mortality was 8% lower than usual, rather than 2% lower than usual. Needless to say, this isn’t going to cut it.
Sweden proved its critics wrong on mortality. But what about the economy? Did the epidemic that Sweden stubbornly refused to suppress end up wreaking havoc on the business sector? Were Swedish consumers too afraid to leave their houses for fear of the unchecked viral transmission outside?
Not a bit of it. The Economist ranked 23 rich countries for overall economic performance during the pandemic, and Sweden finished third, behind Slovenia and Denmark. Their ranking took into account changes in GDP, household income, share prices, investment and public debt.
Sweden did particularly well on public debt, limiting its rise as a share of GDP to only 6.2 percentage points – compared to 19 in the U.S. and 22 in Britain. “This is a reflection, perhaps,” the Economist writes, “of the fact that the country largely avoided strict lockdowns.” (Not sure if there was any need for the “perhaps”.)
Sweden therefore confounds two core tenets of lockdown dogma: that lockdowns are necessary to prevent large numbers of deaths; and that there’s no trade-off between health and the economy. Note: it would be more accurate to say ‘between lockdown and the economy’, since it’s not even clear that lockdowns are a net positive for public health.
Hats off to Sweden’s courageous state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell. He stood firm, while other Western officials panicked under pressure to ‘do something’.