The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Sweden’s Relative Performance In Covid

Sweden famously chose a herd immunity policy during Covid and deliberately withheld life-saving support from seniors, giving them morphine instead of oxygen when they had plenty of oxygen. It wasn’t triage, it was murder. There are many claims that they did well due to their policy. Did they?

Let’s take per-capita deaths as our proxy. Sweden(196.15) did do better than the US (316.83) and the UK ( 302.59) in deaths per 100,000 population. However, they did worse than all their sister-Scandinavian states: Norway (
72.92) Denmark (118.93) and Finland (100.65).

Their death toll was almost 3x Norway’s, the best performer, and somewhat over half again as much as Denmark’s, the worst performer among the other Scandinavian countries. They did worse than Germany (176.90) but slightly better than France (237.39).

All of these countries are, however, pathetic compared to good performers. Japan (30.87), South Korea (51.92), Vietnam (44.29) and China (1.06).

All of these numbers come from the John Hopkins chart. I have to say that I don’t believe some of the statistics. Russia and India had much higher mortality than the chart indicates, for example. Some will suspect that China falls into the same camp, but the people I know in China support the idea that China’s zero Covid has largely worked. The rare exceptions, Hong Kong and Shanghai, did not follow the same policies as other cities. But even if one were to assume that fatalities were 10X as large as stated, China would still have massively outperformed.

The truth is that most countries completely cocked up Covid. They shutdown way too late in each wave, they didn’t quarantine properly, they didn’t put filtration into buildings and they didn’t massively limit international travelers and make quarantine for those travelers who remain mandatory, supervised and supported.

If we had just properly shut down early (and stayed shut down a bit longer), tracked and traced and quarantined we could possibly have ended Covid early. If we had not been told Covid vaccines were a silver bullet, rather than like weaker flu vaccines (have to take them multiple times, they aren’t that effective) and used proper public health policy, a hell of a lot less people would have died.

As for Sweden. Solidly middle of the pack, worse than their peer Scandinavian countries and deliberately murdered old people. Sweden’s GDP growth was nothing spectacular in 2021: middle of the pack. Inflation was solidly middle of the pack, though better than their peer Scandinavian countries.

It’s fair to say that Sweden’s Covid performance wansn’t terrible among developed nations and not as disastrous as many (including myself) thought it would be. But Sweden is nowhere near best in class, or among its Scandinavian peers. The sad truth is that virtually all Western countries blew it and Sweden is among that group.

It’s not that shutdowns don’t work, contra the propaganda, it’s that for them to work you have to do them early, keep them on long enough (though by doing them early virtually all of China’s shutdowns have lasted less time than Western ones) and support people at home with food deliveries and so on so they can actually stay at home. Paid sick days of essential workers were needed, and people going out to grocery shop and so on probably did a great deal of danger. Once schools were opened up, Covid numbers surged first in schools, then to the general population.

Sweden’s no great victory, but it does show that most of what the West did was ineffective. Effective public health measures, where they were done, reduced mortality and cases significantly, but in the West we did everything half-assed, and that’s what our numbers show. Sweden had the grace to mostly not even bother.

People don’t support shutdowns and other public health measures because they didn’t work well because they were done badly. If they had worked they would have wide support.

So the lesson of Sweden (minus their deliberate murder of seniors) is simply do it properly.




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  1. capelin

    One can’t look at the short-term “Covid Deaths” data in isolation, especially given how wonky it is (ie death from, or simply with, Covid).

    A wider time lense, and a wider focus to Overall, Excess, and Unexplained Deaths, tell the real story; of bad medicine, unsupported populations, and various elite agendas.

  2. anon

    Americans messed up the worst compared to other western nations. Separate from awful policy decisions, Americans are plain unhealthy. The majority of Americans are obese and many avoid going to the hospital because they don’t have health care. Those two factors alone will guarantee Americans will always have higher death rates than Scandinavian or Asian countries in a health crisis.

    Now, Covid will never be over for the USA. The American government and media have simply stopped highlighting the thousands of deaths that are still occurring each week and will undoubtedly increase later this year. Imagine when schools and hospitals will have to deal with dual Covid and monkeypox pandemics this fall and winter while our leaders lie blatantly to our faces.

  3. GM

    Sweden’s middle-of-the-pack performance is actually very misleading and of course it is used by the usual propaganda pushers to claim that was the right approach.

    But in reality Sweden is middle-of-the-pack because despite the openly genocidal policies of their government they still didn’t get most people infected prior to vaccination, then they did vaccinate to high levels, and that is why the deaths are only 0.20-0.25% (the official number is almost certainly an undercount) of the population rather than above 1%, which is what it would have been had everyone gotten infected in the first half of 2020.

    The reason everyone didn’t get infected there while they did in some places in the Third world is that Swedes are socially distant by default and that some measures were in fact taken. And that prevented that outcome.

    Then everyone eventually adopted the Swedish model and of course you are not going to stand out as the worst performer if everyone else is doing the same but you have the natural advantage of being the country with the least amount of social mixing pre-pandemic.

    But in fact the pandemic turned out to be worse in its potential damage than initially proposed — in the first half of 2020 various estimates of the age-stratified infection fatality ratio (IFR) were made based on the available then data, and according to those in places like Peru and South Africa even if everyone got infected, the overall PFR (how much of the population died) was expected to be 0.25-0.3%. It’s not the 1% and above that was expected for European countries because of much younger populations..

    Two and a half years later Peru has lost 0.65% of its population and South Africa is above 0.5%, with some provinces above 0.8%.

    So in fact much worse than expected.

    This is because in 2020 and 2021 the virus was evolving towards more severe forms, because of reinfections, and because of the collapse of healthcare during surges.

    What the future will bring we don’t know, a monster new variant with very high mortality appearing and displacing Omicron is very much possible.

  4. StewartM

    What GM said. Sweden has a very high percentage of single-person households, which mitigates the spread of infectious disease (contrast that to places I’ve visited in Asia, where you have 4-5 people sharing say 700 square feet, and the housing units are packed closely together to boot). And moreover you should also add Sweden has good truly universal health care, the US, so people aren’t motivated to not get treatment due to cost concerns.

    Considering all those things, and Sweden’s Covid performance was horrible.

    Though I disagree with Ian on the US public’s willingness to accept stricter measures to effectively stop Covid. Even if Trump had treated the disease seriously instead of trying to pretend it wasn’t a threat, any disease that killed mostly the old would be blown off by a wide swath of an American public corrupted by 40 years of Reaganomics, which inculcates a “what’s in this for me?” short-term personal gain/loss calculation perspective on all topics. Fighting Covid requires Tony Wikret’s “civic republican virture” where the good of everyone is held as higher worth than any individual gain or loss (this is why Asian societies, which *do* still elevate the good of everyone over personal good, did a better job overall). A creed of “society doesn’t exist” or “isn’t real” (Margaret Thatcher) won’t cut it.

    This is even true when something (like climate change) will bite you in the posterior, predictably, given time. Our current “what’s good for me” perspective, like that of the typical Wall Street hedge fund manager, rarely exceeds a few years in the future, so things that will bite you 10 or 15 or 20 years down the road don’t register (like long Covid effects).

  5. different clue

    ” What the future will bring we don’t know, a monster new variant with very high mortality appearing and displacing Omicron is very much possible. ”

    And very much what the Ruling Overclasses deeply hope for, as long as they don’t get so personally blamed that the Ruled Lowerclasses try to reach out and touch them personally.

  6. Mark Level

    Who would’ve thought the supposedly communitarian & economically democratic light-socialist Swedes would embrace the philosophy of Ayn Rand & Paul Ryan? Let the Oldsters die, they’re no longer needed. Rand would certainly endorse the past Inuit practice of putting “useless eaters” on ice floes set out to sea . . . out of sight, out of mind!! Paul Ryan and other Rand students endlessly say we need to gut Social Security and health care unless you can afford it through glorious markets, if Granny & Grandpa have to subsist on cat food or die unassisted from a medical condition in an overcrowded ER, so does God (again, The Perfect, Unregulated Market) mandate. Living in Northern Minnesota currently, I am learning a lot about Scandinavian culture and mores, but this remains a bit of a surprise to me. I will say that the claim used in the Myers-Briggs psychological categories system that Northern Europeans are more introverted (cold climate, long times of winter indoors isolated) than southern Euro extroverts (Greeks, Italians, certainly I find much of Mexican culture community based & extroverted having spent about a year living there) is definitely anecdotally true as far as I can tell, though of course there are always exceptions & social “science” is not as clear-cut as some other sciences (math, physics, chemistry) appear to be.

  7. different clue

    @Mark Level,

    Maybe they are reverting to their pre-Christian blood-hungry Viking roots?

  8. Ché Pasa

    I think too many of us have a touristy-romantic view of Sweden and Scandinavia in general as some kind of happy blonde paradise. DC isn’t far off in positing reversion to their bloodthirsty Viking roots, except it’s not reversion. It’s never been anything but thus. The exterior trappings may have changed but not the underlying culture.

    Which is not to condemn Swedes or Scandinavians but to point out that the image is not the reality. Watch any Bergman movie, any Strindberg play. You’re dealing with complex and not necessarily nice people and culture as well.

    In an earlier post I commented about a story I was told by a Swedish friend about “The Precipice” — a place where the old, the infirm, the Useless Eaters– were taken to be thrown off the cliff to their deaths below… for the good of society. It’s supposed to be legendary, but it was my friend’s contention that it was very real and contemporary. Well, she was a writer, so maybe she was exaggerating. But we see echoes of The Precipice” in Sweden’s Covid policies. Those who couldn’t/wouldn’t fend for themselves were shit out of luck. And some, like those packed into nursing homes, were deliberately if not maliciously killed.

    This isn’t very different than much of the rest of The West, is it?

  9. Trinity

    “This isn’t very different than much of the rest of The West, is it?”

    I agree, it isn’t much different from the West, and part of the impetus behing getting rid of social security. Medicare is already partly privatized, as I understand it.

    I had a classmate in grad school from a Central American country. One of the first things we talked about is the difference in how the two cultures treat their elderly: one as a resource of wisdom and revered, the other as people who should be discarded. I’ve always thought the latter also matters because old people hold valuable knowledge, so it’s best (from the sociopathic perspective) to get rid of them before they cause trouble.

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