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Coronavirus Fatality Rate: How Sweden Compares to Its Scandinavian Neighbors

A billboard informing about the importance of social distancing on a facade in Stockholm, Sweden, April 29, 2020. (TT News Agency/ Fredrik Sandberg via Reuters)

Sweden’s more lax approach to social-distancing has generated a lot of interest. The government has banned events with more than fifty people and shut down universities and secondary schools. But it has allowed grade schools, as well as restaurants, bars, and other establishments, to remain open. (The police have shut down restaurants where social-distancing is not observed).

It remains very much worth following how much higher the fatality-rate is in Sweden compared to countries where stricter social-distancing measures have been imposed by the government (as well as how their economies compare).

The New York Times has a generally favorable take on the Swedish model today. The paper notes that Sweden has a death rate on par with that of Ireland and far below that of the United Kingdom and France.

One note of caution is that European countries that get a lot of international travelers seem to have been hit the hardest. I’m not sure how many people from China, Italy, Iran, or New York were traveling to Scandinavia in January and February.

One thing the Times neglects to report is that Sweden has a much higher fatality rate than its Scandinavian neighbors. Adjusted per capita, Sweden has a death rate more than six times higher than Norway and Finland. Compared to Denmark, Sweden’s death rate is three times higher.

There may be reasons other than differences in government policy that explain some of the difference in Scandinavian death rates for COVID-19, but it’s worth keeping those comparisons in mind as we assess how the Swedish approach is working out.

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