What’s Going on in Sweden

The country’s Covid-19 cases are rising dramatically

Photo: Jonathan Brinkhorst/Unsplash

Sweden, which has taken a much more hands-off approach to curbing Covid-19 than other countries, is reporting a concerning rise in cases. The country has relied on voluntary distancing measures versus a lockdown, and marked a record of 4,062 Covid-19 cases on Friday. As of Thursday, over 141,700 Swedes have been infected with the virus, and there have been over 6,000 deaths.

“The brief respite that we got during the summer is over,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Tuesday. “How we act now will determine what kind of Christmas we will be able to celebrate, and who will be able to take part.”

As Bloomberg reports, there are still experts in the country who broadly support its approach. Bloomberg writes:

Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, says the pandemic is likely to last for years meaning it’s too early to judge which model will prove best in the long run. Importantly, Sweden’s health-care system still looks up to the task ahead, with Covid patients occupying 57 of its 525 intensive-care beds, as of Friday. The Armed Forces, including mobile field hospitals, will be called in if needed.

(It should be noted that Tegnell has acknowledged that the current cases are not good, saying “overall, the development is moving in the wrong direction in many different ways” and that “the main issue now is to really limit close contact to the immediate family.”)

It’s unknown just how many of these cases of Covid-19 in Sweden will result in deaths from the virus. Right now, the country’s deaths from Covid-19 are much lower than the fatality rate in the U.S., though deaths from the virus will lag. Even so, the country also has universal health care and fewer disparities to health access compared to the United States, experts point out, which could account for better outcomes.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether the U.S. should or should not embrace a Swedish approach. Setting aside the fact that the countries are different in many ways (namely, universal health care), the fact is that the U.S.’s approach to the pandemic is very similar to Sweden’s and has been for a long time. Most parts of U.S. society are open and have been for months. Sweden is currently imposing some measures to reduce spread, including limits on the number of people in restaurants and cafes. The U.S. has not applied new restrictions to tamp down transmission like Sweden, or sweeping lockdowns like Germany and France.

Looking at case numbers and deaths, it’s clearly not going well in the U.S. There are over 9.5 million cases reported and over 234,300 deaths. At least 1,616 deaths and 107,872 new cases of the virus were reported on Nov. 4.



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Alexandra Sifferlin

Alexandra Sifferlin


Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that