Sweden’s controversial decision not to lock down during COVID-19 produced more deaths and greater health care 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 imposed 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 deaths in older patients outside ICUs than other countries when ICU beds were not limited. That suggests Swedish health authorities 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 Dr. Peter Kasson of the University of Virginia 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.”
Understanding 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.