Sweden’s controversial decision not to lock down during COVID-19 produced more deaths and greater healthcare demand than seen in countries with earlier, more stringent interventions, a new analysis finds. But Sweden fared better than would be expected from its public-health mandates alone, roughly similar to France, Italy and Spain – countries that had more stringent measures but adopted them after the pandemic took hold there.
Sweden’s unusual approach also saw fewer patients admitted to intensive-care units than expected. But the country has seen a higher percentage of COVID-19 deaths in older patients outside ICUs than other countries when ICU beds were not limited. That suggests health authorities there have considered patients’ chances of recovery in deciding who receives access to intensive care, the researchers say.
“Our study shows that individually driven infection-control measures can have a substantial effect on national outcomes, and we see Sweden as a good example of this case,” said Peter Kasson, MD, PhD, of the School of Medicine and Sweden’s Uppsala University. “Higher levels of individual action would further suppress the infection, while a complete lack of individual action would likely have led to runaway infection, which, fortunately, hasn’t happened.”
The Impact of COVID-19
Kasson and Uppsala’s Lynn Kamerlin set out to analyze the effects of the country’s public-health response using population, employment and household data. They say the insights gained from their work can guide future public-health policies. In particular, the findings will help doctors understand the effects of individual compliance with infection-control measures.
The researchers conclude that Sweden’s “mild” government restrictions, coupled with a population willing to voluntarily self-isolate, produced results quite similar to those seen in countries that enacted more stringent measures later in the pandemic.
Sweden’s per capita death rate was 35 per 100,000 as of May 15. Meanwhile, Denmark’s death rate was 9.3 per 100,000, Finland’s 5.2 and Norway’s 4.7. All three neighboring countries enacted stricter policies. For comparison, the United States had 24 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 as of May 15. But Sweden has fared better than hard-hit countries such as the United Kingdom and Spain.
“Sweden is perhaps the most prominent example of mitigation — limiting the extent of socially and economically disruptive interventions while still aiming to slow spread and allow for an effective medical response,” the researchers wrote in a new paper outlining their findings. “Studying the effects of this strategy, which elements are key to reducing mortality and healthcare need, and how it might compare to other approaches, is thus of critical importance to the global understanding of pandemic responses.”
Read the full story by Josh Barney at UVA Newsroom.