Back in March, when COVID-19 began to spread significantly in Europe, and most countries instituted national lockdowns, Sweden bucked the trend. Aside from banning gatherings of more than fifty people, closing schools for students over the age of sixteen, and barring entry from most countries outside the European Union, the Swedish government imposed no new restrictions on people or businesses. Bars and restaurants remained open, public transportation remained available to everyone, and people remained free to travel, socialize, and go to work.1
“They are leading us to catastrophe,” immunology researcher Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér said at the time.2 People across the world watched and waited for the huge, crippling outbreak that was sure to follow.3 As the number of cases rose, a Swedish lockdown seemed inevitable. But neither a crippling outbreak nor a lockdown ever happened. The daily rate of new cases climbed into the mid-seven hundreds by the start of April, then stayed flat.4
I visited Sweden at the end of September to sample life there for myself. Although I was aware that Sweden had had no lockdown, I didn’t realize how little impact COVID-19 had had on Swedish life. Stockholm was a hub of thriving activity. Trains were filled to the brim with passengers—with not a mask in sight.5 Restaurants overflowed with customers. Groups of people filled the streets with laughter and jollity. All around me, I could hear the voices of people from across Europe who had come to Sweden to escape the dystopian nightmares of their own countries and live normally again, if only for a while. . . .
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1. James Gant, “Still Sweden Bucks the Trend: Public Continue to Mill about in Groups as Life Goes on despite Warnings Their Government’s Coronavirus Approach Is Recipe for Disaster,” Daily Mail, April 1, 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8177607/STILL-Sweden-doesnt-learn-Public-continue-groups-life-goes-on.html (accessed October 15, 2020).
2. Derek Robertson, “‘They Are Leading Us to Catastrophe’: Sweden’s Coronavirus Stoicism Begins to Jar,” The Guardian, March 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/30/catastrophe-sweden-coronavirus-stoicism-lockdown-europe (accessed October 15, 2020).
3. Gant, “Still Sweden Bucks the Trend.”
4. Worldometer, “Sweden Coronavirus Cases: 102,407, Deaths: 5,910,” https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/sweden/ (accessed October 15, 2020).
5. Oliver Smith, “A Dose of the Old Normal in Mask-Free Sweden,” The Telegraph, October 7, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/sweden/articles/sweden-no-masks-utopia/ (accessed October 15, 2020).
6. Dominic Sandbrook, “No Lockdown, No Masks, No Hysteria . . . No Problem: Sweden Didn’t Go into a Corona Coma—and It’s Living in Glorious Normality. Now Dominic Sandbrook Asks: Is This Proof We Got It All Terribly Wrong?,” Daily Mail, August 22, 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-8652523/No-lockdown-no-hysteria-DOMINIC-SANDBROOK-asks-Sweden-proof-got-terribly-wrong.html (accessed October 15, 2020).
7. Statista, “COVID-19 Deaths per Capita by Country,” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/; Catherine Edwards, “Understanding How Sweden Reports Its Coronavirus Figures,” The Local Se, April 14, 2020, https://www.thelocal.se/20200414/understanding-swedens-figures-on-the-coronavirus (accessed October 15, 2020); Martin Kulldorff, PhD, and Grant M. Gallagher, “How Sweden Calculates COVID-19 Deaths,” Contagion Live, August 23, 2020, https://www.contagionlive.com/view/how-sweden-calculates-covid19-deaths (accessed October 15, 2020).
8. Worldometer, “United Kingdom Coronavirus Cases: 673,622, Deaths: 43,293,” https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/uk/ (accessed October 15, 2020).
9. Thomas Erdbrink, “Vilified Early over Lax Virus Strategy, Sweden Seems to Have Scourge Controlled,” New York Times, September 29, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/world/europe/sweden-coronavirus-strategy.html (accessed October 15, 2020). Maddy Savage, “Coronavirus: What’s Going Wrong in Sweden’s Care Homes?,” BBC News, May 19, 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52704836 (accessed October 15, 2020).
10. Richard Milne, “Anders Tegnell and the Swedish Covid Experiment,” Financial Times, September 11, 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/5cc92d45-fbdb-43b7-9c66-26501693a371 (accessed October 15, 2020).
11. M. B. Pell and Benjamin Lesser, “Researchers Warn the COVID-19 Lockdown Will Take Its Own Toll on Health,” Reuters, April 3, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/health-coronavirus-usa-cost/ (accessed October 15, 2020).
12. Garerth Iacobucci, “Suicide Rates Continue to Rise in England and Wales,” British Medical Journal, September 3, 2020, https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3431 (accessed October 15, 2020); http://www.heraldmalaysia.com/news/suicide-rates-rise-in-japan-among-women-and-youth-as-a-result-of-the-pandemic/56013/2 (accessed October 15, 2020); Charles Pensulo, “‘Drastic Rise’ in Malawi’s Suicide Rate Linked to COVID Economic Downturn,” The Guardian, October 12, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/12/drastic-rise-in-malawis-suicide-rate-linked-to-covid-economic-downturn (accessed October 15, 2020).
13. Rafaela Lindeberg and Niclas Rolander, “Sweden Loosens Purse Strings with Virus Stimulus Budget,” Bloomberg, September 21, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-21/sweden-submits-historic-stimulus-budget-to-parliament (accessed October 19, 2020).
14. Dr. Rachel Irwin, “The Truth about Sweden’s Voluntary Lockdown,” The Spectator, September 23, 2020, https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-myth-of-sweden (accessed October 15, 2020).
15. Dr. Rachel Irwin, “Misinformation and De-contextualization: International Media Reporting on Sweden and COVID-19,” BioMed Central, July 13, 2020, https://globalizationandhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12992-020-00588-x (accessed October 15, 2020); Jon Miltimore, “5 Charts That Show Sweden’s Strategy Worked. The Lockdowns Failed,” FEE, October 9, 2020, https://fee.org/articles/5-charts-that-show-sweden-s-strategy-worked-the-lockdowns-failed/ (accessed October 15, 2020).