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EDITORIAL: Sweden now a coronavirus success story

Updated October 6, 2020 - 10:03 pm

Joe Biden has hinted that, if elected president, he’d be agreeable to a stringent national lockdown in order to fight the coronavirus. Perhaps he should examine Sweden before further destroying the American economy.

It was only months ago that progressives and some single-minded public health experts were vilifying officials in the Nordic nation for refusing to shut down their economy as the pandemic raged. Unlike virtually every other nation, Sweden never closed restaurants, bars or schools. Parks, public transportation and most businesses remained open. The country did limit gatherings and cancel sporting events, but, for the most part, it let citizens determine their own levels of risk tolerance.

Initially, the country had a relatively high death rate per capita, earning the scorn of lockdown proponents. And it’s true that Sweden was lax in protecting vulnerable nursing home residents during the nascent days of the pandemic.

But the situation in Sweden has improved dramatically. The New York Times noted last week that the nation is doing far better at containing the virus than many other European countries grappling with renewed outbreaks. And even as COVID-19 numbers have rebounded in recent weeks in places such as Great Britain, Spain, Germany and France, many European leaders are now highly skeptical of the sustainability of shutting down commerce as a means of addressing the virus.

“Today, all of the European countries are more or less following the Swedish model, combined with the testing, tracing and quarantine procedures the Germans have introduced, but none will admit it,” Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health, in Geneva told the Times. “Instead, they made a caricature out of the Swedish strategy. Almost everyone has called it inhumane and a failure.”

Instead, the number of Swedes dying from COVID has declined steadily since March.

“Sweden has gone from being one of the countries in Europe with the most spread to one that has some of the fewest cases in Europe,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, told the paper. It’s worth noting that the Swedes have no mask mandates.

Whether Swedish progress continues remains to be seen, of course, but the country currently stands as an example that appreciating individual autonomy and addressing a public health crisis are not mutually exclusive. “Sweden serves as an indication that respecting people’s liberty doesn’t inherently pose a health threat,” noted J.D. Tuccille at Reason.com, “and that a virus shouldn’t be used as an automatic excuse for forcibly curtailing normal life.”

Mr. Biden’s support for a national lockdown is a mistake. The evidence is mounting that such an approach has its own significant costs and doesn’t achieve the desired results.

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