Lessons from Kronavirus: Is Sweden’s anti-lockdown approach more strategic than it seems?

Scott Young
Former director of ideas and insights at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship
Next Generation Delegate to the XX PECC General Meeting.


Scott Young: Sweden's unorthodox strategy has been rightly criticized, but it's too early to condemn an approach that's focused on the long game and public trust


Every afternoon, I look up from my home office to watch a group of shrieking kids descend on our local playground. It is a daily reminder my pandemic is not like your pandemic. As a Canadian who relocated recently to Malmö, Sweden, I arrived just in time to witness Sweden’s COVID-19 response firsthand. I live in one of the few places in the world where playgrounds, parks, restaurants and bars never closed.

It is a striking dissonance from Toronto, where I lived until recently, and B.C.’s Lower Mainland, where I grew up. The photographs of deserted streets I am intimately familiar with—Little Italy in Toronto, Gastown in Vancouver—feel as though they are pulled from a nightmare, one my friends and family are all trapped in. While they endure lockdowns, snitch lines and overzealous bylaw enforcement—remember the Ottawa teenager or the new mom in Aurora, Ont., fined hundreds of dollars for shooting hoops or lingering a few seconds too long in a park—my daily life has carried on unimpeded. In the past week, I got a bad haircut, went to the gym, and met friends for lunch, all without fear of censure.

There are moments of stringency here. At the end of April, Lund city council approved a generous helping of chicken manure for its public parks, a pungent and potent deterrent against crowds ahead of the May long weekend (Valborgsmässoafton, the equivalent here of Labour Day). And last weekend, several Stockholm bars were sternly warned, though not fined for breaking social distancing rules. Still, as some restaurants I know and love in Toronto are shutting their doors forever, I am making reservations here for next week.

Much has been written about Sweden’s COVID-19 response: its high case count, and relatively high deaths per capita, by far the highest in Scandinavia. While Sweden’s deaths per capita have not reached the level of Italy, Spain or the United Kingdom, they remain higher than the United States and more than double that of Canada. Its testing rate remains at around 30,000 a week, behind neighbors like Norway, and Sweden’s more than 26,000 reported cases and 3,200 deaths have attracted attention from around the globe, and the government has been accused of playing Russian roulette with Swedish lives.

However, it may still be too early to prognosticate about the effectiveness of the Swedish strategy, and equally premature to completely disregard it as the wrong one. Dr. Johan Giesecke, the former chief scientist at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control who is currently advising the Swedish government, said in a recent interview, “only in a year from now can we know if the Swedish approach has been proven right.” No one would predict the winner of the Stanley Cup on the basis of Game 1 in the first round, so why do so many feel comfortable excoriating Sweden so early in this pandemic?

To read the remainder of this essay, please go to Maclean's website.


*This excerpt has been published with the permission of the author.

 *Scott Young (@scottalyoung) is a Canadian citizen living in Sweden.

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