Pressure to reopen economies around the world is building up as nations strain against the staggering losses caused by lockdown measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
While most health experts counsel caution in the face of uncertainty, some politicians are eager to throw off the yoke of social distancing in favor of a return to “normal” life.
Among those who advocate an end to shelter-in-place and stay-at-home restrictions, Sweden has been a rallying cry.
Unlike its other Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden has eschewed strict quarantine measures to reduce the movement of citizens and has opted for a relaxed, less restrictive approach that has allowed many schools, bars and restaurants to remain open. And, while gatherings of more than 50 people have been disallowed, crowds continue to gather and life in many parts of Sweden goes on as if it were 2018.
In the United States, where President Donald Trump and his conservative fan base are chomping at the bit to get the economy restarted regardless of the health consequences, Sweden is the poster child.
In April, Fox talk host Tucker Carlson attacked Michigan’s governor for strict quarantine regulations and said Sweden has never “adopted the Chinese model—the authoritarian model—in order to contain coronavirus,” before praising Sweden’s numbers compared to Michigan’s.
On another occasion, he said the United States chose the “Chinese model—total lockdowns, internal travel restrictions, punishment for those who step out of line—instead of the “Swedish model of targeted restrictions coupled with voluntary distancing.”
Former US speaker of the House New Gingrich said “places like Sweden … have done a much better job with much less economic damage.” He also praised Sweden’s approach during an edition of Fox & Friends, saying “the result is their economy is stronger and they have fewer people infected than either Denmark or Norway.”
In mid-April, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted praise for Sweden’s model three separate times. In one tweet, Ingraham complained that “it's now obvious that our press will oppose any strategy that doesn't lead to a complete lockdown for at least the remainder of the year.”
Candace Owens, who has been among the most vocal right-wing media figures in denying the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, tweeted praise for Sweden’s model and mocked social distancing.
Trump himself has been pushing for a greater relaxation of state-imposed restrictions, tweeting his call for people in Democratic-led states to “liberate” themselves.
This ugly use of the term “liberate” has even found its way to the Philippines, where some clueless legislators have picked it up, thinking this makes them sound clever.
For the record, here is what the data from the Johns Hopkins University shows.
Among all the Scandinavian countries, Sweden has the most number of coronavirus cases—15,322—and also the highest death toll, at 1,765 as of April 22. In fact, the number of infections is about double what it is in Norway (7,191) and Denmark (7,891), and three times as much as in Finland (4,014).
The number of deaths from COVID-19 in Sweden is 12 times more than Finland, nine times more than Norway and four times more than Denmark.
Sweden’s fatality rate is 11.52 percent, much higher than Denmark, 4.69 percent; Finland, 3.51 percent; and Norway, 2.53 percent.
According to John Hopkins University, Sweden has the 20th highest number of confirmed cases in the world and is ranked 13th in the world for number of fatalities.
And the economic gains?
Sweden’s finance minister says the economy is expected to shrink 4 percent this year as the coronavirus outbreak hits supply and demand, regardless of its “relaxed approach.”
If wishes were wings, pigs would fly—and so would crazy notions that we can safely ignore the data when dealing with a deadly pandemic.