To understand Sweden, you must understand a word that is difficult to explain, let alone translate: appropriate. It actually means “perfectly-simple”: not too much, not too little. People who are fit do not stand out or make a fuss: they blend in – and it is seen as a virtue.
Essays are written about why it adequately summarizes a certain Swedish way of thinking – that it is bad to stand out, to consider oneself better or to be an outlier. That is why it is so strange that Sweden became the world’s defiant protagonist during the closures.
The Swedes saw it the other way around. They remained calm and continued: lockdown was an extreme, draconian, untried experiment. Lock everyone up, keep children out of school, revoke civil liberties, send police after people walking their dogs – and call this “caution”? Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, never spoke of a Swedish “experiment”. He kept saying that he could not recommend a public health intervention that had never been proven.
Tegnell also made another point: that he did not claim to be right. It would take years, he would argue, to see who had jumped the right way. His calculation was that, on an entire societal basis, the bilateral damage caused by locks would outweigh the benefits they do. But you only know if that was the case after a few years. You would need to look at cancer diagnoses, hospital waiting lists, educational injuries and, yes, count Covid deaths. Almost two years later, we can look at the early indications.
The problem with locks is that no one is looking at pictures from the whole community. Professor Neil Ferguson’s team from Imperial College London once acknowledged this as an easy side. “We are not considering the broader social and economic costs of repression,” they wrote in a presumed assessment of the deadlock, “which will be high.” But how loud? And were they a price worth paying?
When Sweden abolishes all domestic Covid restrictions, it will result in one of Europe’s lower death rates for Covid: the proportion is 1,614 per million people, just over half of the United Kingdom (2,335). Given that our death rates were comparable at first (both among the worst anywhere), it is difficult to claim that there is any demographic force that meant that Covid would never be spread in Sweden.