ROUND ROCK, Texas — When COVID-19 struck the world, Sweden never closed its borders. Instead, they opted to follow the standard health and safety guidelines. Although stores, schools and businesses remained open, many Swedens still stayed at home. COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in early 2020, including thousands of deaths in a nursing home, losing 7% of its inhabitants. With a second wave rumored, Sweden now hovers a little over 300,000 total cases. For many reasons, this is due to lower population density, social distance guidelines being adhered to and early testing. Travel in Sweden, for example, decreased by over 40%, and visiting care homes for the elderly are now banned. Even with these positive statistics, the death toll still darkens an otherwise phosphorescent experiment. There is a resulting debate over whether Sweden’s “success” can truly be deemed as such.
Poverty and COVID-19
Unsurprisingly, poverty is correlated with higher COVID-19 mortality. One Swedish study claimed that low-income, low-education, unmarried immigrant males have a higher risk of death from COVID-19. Men in the first and second tertiles of disposable income are five times as likely to die and experience 80% higher mortality than those in the top tertile. This holds true for immigrants from low and middle-income countries, who have a 2.5 times higher mortality among men and 1.5 times among women than those born in Sweden. Moreover, immigrants are more than twice as likely to die as natives.
According to poverty expert, Radda Barnen of Save the Children, income inequality and child poverty have also increased. Around 10%, or about 186,000 children, live in poverty in Sweden. In his charity work among the poor, Radda Barnen claims that poverty has only worsened living conditions, especially the cramped living conditions of undocumented migrants who share hostels, resulting in rapidly spreadable illnesses. It is commonly stated that COVID-19 does not discriminate, but this is untrue in light of research. The virus does discriminate. Those most vulnerable have the worst chance. Sweden has had success, however, in combating the virus.
Fiscal Relief and
In terms of aid, Sweden has provided fiscal measures to its citizens. For example, SEK 264 million were allotted toward COVID-19 recovery. In addition, Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, has provided SEK 1.25 billion for virus aid. Sida also aided farmers to continue making a living since most regions rely on trade. Through the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) program, Sida has given SEK 50 million for the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility project.
Sweden’s success and the low number of COVID-19 cases lie in the citizens’ cooperation. According to Helena Nordenstedt, clinical epidemiologist and researcher in global health, people are not as tired as those in other, more restrictive countries. In addition, they are more readily adaptable to adhering to strict governmental measures since lockdowns were not so strictly enforced in Sweden. Therefore, experts believe a second wave would be met with more of the same response as the first one. “The strategy,” states Nordenstedt, “was to flatten the curve, not overwhelm health care capacity. That seems to have worked. If you take care homes out of the equation, things actually look much brighter.”
Countries worldwide either admired or criticized Sweden’s approach to COVID-19. The death toll may have initially passed Denmark, Norway and Finland, but the mortality remains lower than in the U.K., Spain and Belgium. Sweden’s success is not only admired and criticized but studied till this day.
– Shelby Gruber