World Pandemic Observation | Swedish Pandemic Prevention Strategies and Effects

Author: Shutong Huo

Translator & Editor: Mengmeng Shi

As of Beijing time at 8:00 a.m. on April 25, Sweden has 17,567 confirmed cases, 1,256 severe cases, and 2,152 deaths from the COVID-19, with a fatality rate of 12.3%. A total of 31,848 individuals who were in close contact with confirmed cases were tracked, including 14,356 close contacts who were still under medical observation. So far, Sweden has banned gatherings of more than 50 people, closed high schools and universities, and urged people over 70 years of age or those who may be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus to self-isolation. But these restrictions seem much more relaxed than the measures taken by many other countries. For instance, kindergartens, restaurants, and most businesses are still open in Sweden.

Apparently, Sweden’s prevention effect seems not optimistic based on the current data of far more COVID-19 cases and deaths than the other Nordic countries. As shown in Figure 1, the yellow broken line represents the trend of deaths from the COVID-19 in Sweden in comparison with three other Nordic countries, Denmark (green), Norway (red), and Finland (blue). Although the initial infection rate was roughly the same in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, the number of deaths in Sweden was 333 on April 4, but within three weeks (by April 25) the death toll was 2,152, which has increased six-fold. In the same period, the number of deaths in Denmark has tripled, from 139 to 394, and the number of deaths in Norway has quadrupled, from 44 to 180. According to the previous estimates from the Imperial College of Technology in the UK, 3.1% of the population in Sweden could have been infected with the virus as of March 28, while that number in Norway and the United Kingdom was only 0.41% and 2.5%, respectively [1]. According to a report by the Washington Post in early April, COVID-19 has spread to one-third of nursing homes in the capital Stockholm, resulting in a rapid rise in deaths among the elderly. Of the more than 3,300 deaths reported to date, half have been care home residents; another quarter received care at home [2]. Also, there is little evidence showing that Sweden has better resistance to the economic storm brought by the COVID-19 pandemic than other similar countries [3]

Why has Sweden adopted a relatively loose pandemic prevention policy so far? First, the Swedish Constitution prohibits the government from interfering in the affairs of administrative agencies such as public health institutions. In addition, the Swedish people have a high degree of trust in the government’s actions, which is higher than in other Nordic countries. According to the survey, 76% of respondents expressed much or relatively high confidence in the Swedish public health agency when dealing with the pandemic [4]. Besides, the Swedish population is less dense and has the highest proportion of single families in the world. More than half of households in Sweden are composed of one person. Since many elderly are either live alone or in nursing homes, the risk of coronavirus spread through individual families is low. What’s more, Sweden has the culture of working from home for a long time; about 40% of office workers had already worked from home before the outbreak [5].

In general, although Sweden has certain advantages in pandemic prevention due to some characteristics of its society in theory, Sweden’s loose pandemic prevention policy is likely to lead to a rapid rise in cases and deaths. In particular, the apparent gap in comparison with the death toll of other Nordic countries may suggest that Sweden should respond to COVID-19 more actively as soon as possible to avoid losses in time.

Figure 1 Cumulative deaths in four Nordic countries



  1. Open data hub launches to track global responses to COVID-19.
  2. Failure to halt COVID-19 spread leads to mass deaths in Swedish elder care homes.
  3. Coronavirus? Pandemic? For many in Sweden, life goes on as usual.
  4. How much trust do you have in the following institutions and authorities regarding their handling of the coronavirus in Sweden?
  5. Swedish public health “gambling” may end in losing out or killing 100,000 people (in Chinese)



©Copyright 2020 U.S.-China Health Summit COVID-19 Task Force



The U.S.- China Health Summit is dedicated to the advancement of global health by promoting the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and experiences of healthcare leaders from the U.S., China, and other countries through high-level strategic dialogues, leadership development programs, and applied research.

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