If Sweden, which has not locked down its economy and society, emerges with a death toll from COVID-19 that is somewhere in the middle of the pack of European countries, there is going to be a lot of recrimination, particularly against those who have tried to silence any discussion about the true extent of the threat that COVID-19 actually poses
In a word: Sweden. What happens if they pull this off? What happens if it turns out that we could have coped with COVID-19 without collapsing entire sectors of the economy putting millions on the dole, and imposing some of the most draconian restrictions on civil liberties in living memory?
Sweden has not closed the bars. Shopping malls are open. Schools and companies are open too. There are some restrictions such as on gatherings of over 50 people. But, in comparison with most European countries, life in Sweden is relatively normal.
Right now, Sweden’s death rate from coronavirus is 33 per million of the population. In France it is 83. In Italy it is 230. In Britain it is 43. In the Netherlands it is 78.
In the United States the number of deaths per million of the population is 18, but many argue that the outbreak in America took off later, and European levels of fatality from the virus are on their way. We shall see.
But, in any case, which levels of European fatality? The figures are all over the place. Partly this must be due to different ways in which the death toll is being counted.
In some countries, COVID-19 is being listed as the cause of death merely if it appears somewhere on the death certificate. In other words, you may have been days away from dying from terminal lung cancer, but if you had contracted COVID-19 in the meantime, your death will be listed in the overall COVID-19 fatality numbers. In other countries, it has to have been the single most obvious cause of death to make it into the same statistics.
Sweden appears to be in the latter category, which may be making their numbers look a little lower than in countries which list things differently. But probably not enough to radically change the comparisons.
That will all be looked at closely when all this is over.
But if, when all such necessary adjustments have been made, Sweden emerges with a death toll from COVID-19 that is somewhere in the middle of the pack of European countries, there is going to be a lot of recrimination, particularly against those who have tried to silence any discussion about the extent of the threat that COVID-19 actually poses.
What is interesting though, is that precisely because it is Sweden, the usual suspects in our politics who benefit from disillusionment with the establishment may find it hard to profit from this. The Swedish government is led by Stefan Loeven, a Social Democrat.
Sweden is practically a role model for mainstream, left of centre politics. If you’re a European populist, it’s going to be more than a little incongruous to start singing the praises of Sweden, of all countries.
Similarly in America. Donald Trump has, albeit reluctantly, broadly followed the lockdown policies we see across most of Europe. Unless he very quickly does a 180 degree turn (and don’t rule that out) how can he profit from his usual disdain for the way things are done by the establishment?
That said, if this particular “Swedish model” wins the day, someone is going to get it in the neck. The question is, who?