Two weeks ago, I wrote about ‘the Swedish experiment’ in The Spectator. As the world went into lockdown, Sweden opted for a different approach to tackling coronavirus: cities, schools and restaurants have remained open. This was judged by critics to be utterly foolish: it would allow the virus to spread much faster than elsewhere, we were told, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. Hospitals would become like warzones. As Sweden was two weeks behind the UK on the epidemic curve, most British experts said we’d pay the price for our approach when we were at the peak. Come back in two weeks, I was told. Let's see what you're saying then. So here I am.
I'm happy to say that those fears haven’t materialised. But the pressure on Sweden to change tack hasn’t gone away. We haven't u-turned. We’re careful, staying inside a lot more. But schools and shops remain open. Unlike some countries on the continent, no one is asking for ‘our papers’ when we move around in cities. The police don’t stop us and ask why we are spending so much time outdoors: authorities rather encourage it. No one is prying in shopping baskets to make sure you onlyThe country’s Public Health Agency and the ‘state epidemiologist’, Anders Tegnell, have kept their cool and still don’t recommend a lockdown. They are getting criticised by scientific modellers but the agency is sticking to its own model of how the virus is expected to develop and what pressure hospitals will be under. The government still heeds the agency’s advice; no party in the opposition argues for a lockdown. Rather, opinion polls show that Swedes remain strongly in favour of the country’s liberal approach to the pandemic.
Sweden is sticking to its policy because, on the whole, it is balanced and effectual. So far, the actual development is generally following the government’s prediction. On Monday, 1,580 people had died and tested positive for Covid-19. The number of daily deaths has remained pretty stable at about 75 for a while but is now on a declining path. A lot more people will die in the next weeks and months but our death toll is far away from the pessimistic and alarmist predictions suggesting 80 to 90,000
There are also encouraging signs that the growth of reported infections is also slowing down – a development that holds for both Stockholm (by far the worst affected region) and the rest of the country. The estimate from the Public Health Agency is that 100,000 people will show up at a hospital and test positive for Covid-19: the current headcount, just south of 14,800, suggests we are broadly in line with that estimate – if not below it.
A recent test at Karolinska suggested that 11 per cent of people in Stockholm had developed antibodies against the virus. Professor Jan Albert, who has led these tests, says the rate is most likely higher – perhaps substantially higher. So far they have only tested a small sample of blood donors and they can only donate if they are healthy and free of symptoms. Albert thinks the actual situation isn’t far away from the ballpark suggested by professor Tom Britton in a study that was released this weekend: that between 25 and 40 per cent of the Stockholm population have had the virus and that the region will reach herd immunity in late May. The Public Health Agency seems to be thinking along the same lines: by 1 May, it predicts in a brand new study, 30 per cent of the population in Stockholm will have had the virus.
There are no patterns indicating a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin related to the state's controversial April 7 election, according to Andrea Palm, the secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Health Services.