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14 February 2022

Was Sweden’s Covid-19 policy really successful?

The country’s death rate is more than double that of Denmark, the next most affected Nordic state.

By Nicu Calcea

Sweden’s liberal approach to Covid-19 has apparently been vindicated, according to some British commentators. Its death rate, however, compares unfavourably with that of its Nordic neighbours.

So far 16,500 people have died of Covid-19 in Sweden, 1,624 people per one million of the population. Denmark, the next most affected Nordic country, has a death rate less than half that of Sweden — 700 deaths per million.

Sweden scrapped most of its remaining Covid restrictions last week, despite concerns from scientists, who have warned that hospitals are still under pressure. Over the course of the pandemic the country has chosen a lighter approach to restrictions than its neighbours, drawing both praise and criticism.

“Swedish statistics do not differ from other European countries,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, told The BMJ in December. “After two years of pandemic Sweden does not stand out. We are not the best, but we are definitely not the worst.”

Sweden does indeed have a lower death rate than many countries in Europe, including the UK. Among its neighbours, however, it stands out despite having had fewer cases per million than Denmark and a similar rate to Iceland. An Economist analysis of excess mortality figures -- deaths above what would normally be expected during a certain time period -- puts Sweden’s death rate at 1,256 per million since the start of the pandemic, the highest in the region. Finland, the next country on the list, has recorded 815 excess deaths per million.

[See also: Sweden's Nato application marks historic shift away from neutrality]

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