COVID19 in June: Norway vs Sweden

The COVID19 situation keeps developing around the world. So this is an update about what different strategies look like as of June 5.

As a Norwegian I wish the best for or sweet neighbor Sweden, but I think it is fair to say that the Swedish COVID19 strategy seems to be a mistake.

The Swedish strategy has been based on the assumption that a hammer and dance approach cannot work in a Nordic democracy. Swedish experts have said we would be unable to contain the spread. We can only manage it.

This is why flatten the curve was such a big deal early. That is essentially what Sweden went for. Flatten the curve is about letting everybody get COVID19 eventually but keep the spread slow enough to not overwhelm the health care system.

The other part of the Swedish strategy has been to protect the most vulnerable but operate under the assumption that mostly everybody else will get it.

In this light the Swedish strategy has not been a complete failure. They managed to flatten the curve. There was a period many thought that would not be possible.

However the idea that one can let disease spread in the whole rest of society while you shield nursing homes has not proven to be a workable solution anywhere. Certainly not in Sweden. Far more elderly have died than Swedish health authorities had predicted. In fact Sweden had operated under the assumption that they would not have significantly more dead people than other Nordic countries.

This has been a significant error in judgement. We may have underestimated Sweden, but Sweden likewise totally underestimated other Nordic countries. They said we could not contain COVID19.

We have in fact largely managed to do that in Norway. The R number has been way below 1, meaning each person with COIVD19 has infected less than 1 other person, leading to a steady decline in cases.

Keep in mind Norway’s shutdown was not particularly hard. Yes it was hard economically on a lot of business, because hotels and travel shut down. But other people lived quite normal. We have been out walking, biking and shopping as normal. Nobody has worn a mask. People have not been particularly good at social distancing. Sure we keep some distance in the grocery store line etc. The point is that it has not been anything like I have read about in other countries with totally empty streets. Police chasing people who are outside etc. Nothing like that here.

Swedish experts suggested this would only be a temporary victory. That as soon as we opened up again number would quickly rise. Except that has not happened. We have no been open for about 1 month, and our R number is still below 1.

In fact Corona measures are now less strict than in Sweden. Let that sink in. Sweden that everybody wants to be like has now stricter rules than many of the countries which have opened up again. In Norway we now have less than 50 cases of Corona virus while in Sweden 50 people die every day from COVID19.

Various anti-body tests have pointed to relatively few people being immune in Sweden. That means Sweden isn’t really in a stronger position than Norway with respect to immunity.

Sweden deserves a fair assessment. Nobody knew exactly what would be the most effective strategy initially. In the beginning all Nordic countries assumed COVID19 should be dealt with like any other flu pandemic. Then we saw how the case load grew in Wuhan and Northern Italy.

Other Nordic countries started exploring other strategies. Not so much Sweden. Flatten the curve became a hot topic. But even that was hotly contested. Many argue that it would be impossible to flatten the curve sufficiently to be worth it. Sweden has proven that flattening the curve was actually possible with early and moderate measures.

The next strategy that people starting considering after watching successful containment in Asia was the hammer and dance strategy. This is basically what Norway, Finland and Denmark went for. Iceland followed a strategy more similar to South Korea with massive testing and tracing without all that much lockdown measures.

Norwegian health experts acknowledge that what we decided to do was a big experiment. But now we know a lot more about the outcomes of different strategies. To measure outcomes today we have to compare them to predictions about outcomes that was made previously.

The economic damage has been worse than predicted. But the ability to knock down the virus and hinder spread has been significantly more effective with the hammer and dance approach than predicted.

Sweden has been hit less hard economically, but their approach is doing much worse than they themselves had predicted even if it is not as bad as the worst doomsday predictions.

With Sweden under stricter rules than Norway today, and still quite aways off from being “done,” Norway may actually end up being hit much less severely economically speaking as well.

There is talk about a second wave which will prove the Swedish strategy better. But there is no reason to believe that. We have demonstrated that knocking down the virus isn’t actually that hard when you decide to do it. And it is easier the earlier you do it.

By the time a second wave comes around we will have more contact tracers, and more testing equipment to keep this under control.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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