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Was Sweden Right in Following a no Lockdown Policy?

With almost 200 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 4 million deaths, the Covid-19 pandemic has swept over the world with tremendous force and continues to be a concern at the time of writing this. Initially, health agencies around the world were forced to deal with a situation with no comparable scenario in modern history. Relatively fast it became clear that lockdowns were a way of mitigating the number of infected and deaths.

Was Sweden Right in Following a no Lockdown Policy?foto: CDC
Sebastian Shaqiri
created at: Wed Jul 14 2021| updated at:Fri Sep 24 2021
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With almost 200 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 4 million deaths, the Covid-19 pandemic has swept over the world with tremendous force and continues to be a concern at the time of writing this. Initially, health agencies around the world were forced to deal with a situation with no comparable scenario in modern history. Relatively fast it became clear that lockdowns were a way of mitigating the number of infected and deaths.

The effects of lockdowns may, however, differ between countries; for instance, the UK went into lockdown but faced much higher death rates than, for instance, Norway which suggests that the lockdown effect may not be unambiguous, but instead depend on different other factors such as time of lockdown and general health of the population. In contrast, there were some countries, most notably Sweden that completely disregarded a strict lockdown policy, using more lenient restrictions and urging social distancing. Since Sweden is a country fairly similar to other western countries in terms of pre-Covid factors such as economic growth, population health, etc., Sweden becomes an interesting study object when trying to isolate the pure effect of lockdowns on death and infection rates.

What if Sweden had gone into lockdown?

It is not possible to observe the counterfactual scenario had Sweden used a strategy similar to other western countries since it did not happen. However, a recent study tries to answer this question by creating a counterfactual Sweden and comparing the simulated outcome with the actual outcome to isolate the lockdown effects. To do this, they collect data on countries with similar pre-lockdown characteristics to Sweden. By nature, these countries are all EU countries that went into lockdown sometime in March of 2020.

They show that if Sweden had gone into a 9-week lockdown, like most other countries, the infection rate would have decreased by around 75 percent and the death rate with around 38 percent. In turn, the number of deaths during the first wave would have been around 3.000 instead of the approximately 5.000 deaths that happened under no lockdown. In addition, they also show that had Sweden gone into lockdown, there would have been a moderate reduction in economic growth, which implies that Sweden’s no lockdown policy did mitigate the economic costs of a lockdown, albeit, in moderate form. However, it should be noted that the Swedish public health agency’s calls for social distancing probably also had a negative effect on growth, which means that the cost would probably have been greater in a scenario where no social distancing had been applied.

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