John Fund and Joel W. Hay to debate on the homepage that Sweden’s weak approach to coronavirus has succeeded, and furthermore that its success will “probably” prove the recommendations of most epidemiologists wrong. “If social isolation is successful, wouldn’t Sweden, the Nordic nation with 10.1 million people, see the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocket to tens of thousands, surpassing those in Italy or New York City?” they ask. But the jury seems to come out at the wisdom of the Swedish approach.
One reason is time. Fund and Hay noted that Sweden had fewer COVID-19 deaths, cumulatively, than Switzerland, a country of the same size that adopted a much tougher policy. However, the Swiss outbreak began before Sweden, and when the trajectories of case fatality rates between the two countries were compared, they actually looked very similar. In fact, over the past week, the number of Swedish deaths has been adult faster than Switzerland: at an average geometric rate of 1.19 per day, compared with 1.11 per day. That Sweden had an outbreak later than Switzerland – or, for that matter, rather than Italy or the United States – is not clearly the result of public policy (geography, climate, and travel appear as alternative explanations), nor does it guarantee that the trajectories will remain the same.
In addition, there are signs that Sweden is anticipating a tragedy in the coming weeks, and considering stricter measures. Prime Minister be warned this weekend “thousands” of deaths; his parliament is approaching an agreement on a law that “would allow the government to take action – such as closing schools, shopping centers, or restaurants – without first getting parliamentary approval.” Could there be political pressure on governments to bring their policies in line with policies throughout the Western world? Maybe, but maybe the government also revised its policy by considering new information. Just as I believe that a healthy society must allow the question of orthodoxy, and as much as I would like to see a Swedish experiment succeed, I cannot say I am sure it will – moreover it will prove the usefulness of social distance.
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