“The Brussels Diary with Yana Toom”: Swedish Way, Futile Deaths


In May, Estonia prohibited flights to seven countries in which there is a high risk of catching coronavirus. Among these countries is Sweden with its special approach that many admired and still admire. Already in March, the Swedes decided not to close down much and not to forbid much. Let herd immunity develop and nothing will affect the economy. This is called ‘the wish to get everything at once’.

The result – hundreds if not thousands of deaths that could have been prevented. There were 399 deaths per one million Swedes due to Covid-19 on Monday. True, if compared, this number is lower than in countries where the situation is very bad, such as Italy, Spain, France and Belgium. However, Sweden should not be compared to those countries but to its northern neighbours: in Denmark the number of fatalities is four, in Norway eight and in Finland seven times smaller. To say nothing of the Baltic countries.

The supporters of the Swedes keep telling us that at least they saved their economy! A quote from a blog on the Moscow Echo (Эхе Москвы) site: ‘The Swedes and the Belarusians keep everything open and everything is working; we have everything suspended and falling apart although the number of people who have contracted the virus is almost the same’.

The author does not mention the death rate, though. As for the economy, he is not right. ‘Everything is open’ does not mean that ‘everything is working as usual’. If there is an extremely high fatality in your country and you have elders, asthmatics and children with weak immunity, you think a hundred times before you travel by underground and go shopping. Swedish businesspeople say: ‘There are no buyers – everyone is staying home’. You bet.

According to estimates from the Swedish central bank, the economy of the country will decline by 7-10% this year, while unemployment will be 9-10%. The European Commission made almost a similar forecast for the entire EU. It is likely that Sweden will do worse than average. The issue is not only a decline in domestic demand. There is one factor that the Swedes failed to consider: they export and import more than 40% of goods and services. When the economies of other countries slow down, the economy in Sweden will also slow down, even if restaurants stay open for 24 hours on end. When unemployment is increasing everywhere, it will also increase in Sweden because 15% of the Swedish labour force is involved in export. When no movies come out of Hollywood, there is nothing to watch in cinemas. If there is nowhere to fly, airlines suffer losses. Furthermore, if going onto the street comes with the risk of catching virus and death, economic behaviour will obviously change as it has everywhere.

Saving the economy is a myth and the Swedes did not succeed. Herd immunity also turned out to be a myth – less than 8% of Stockholm residents could boast of having antibodies by the end of April. What is awful about all this is that thousands of deaths were in vain.

In April, two thousand Swedish experts tried to prevent this outcome but, alas, failed. This all was predictable: there are no miracles, a virus is a virus and nobody has ruled out logical thinking. The Swedish economy would have slowed down anyway; the question is in the number of deaths. Estonia, as almost all European Union countries, chose an optimal path. I hope we will also use our common sense in future.