Sweden has gone from initially being hailed for the most liberal lockdown only to later on becoming the whipping boy for being so lax as cases and deaths per capita significantly exceeded its Scandinavian neighbours. Now with things back under control, here’s a piece in The Economist about how Sweden’s policy decisions are driven by trade-offs more than just liberty, which its people so cherish.
“..unlike Britain, France and Spain, Sweden has not seen a second wave…Contrary to some claims, this is not dependent on herd immunity—Sweden still has a large population of susceptible people. Rather, it entails rapid large-scale testing and contact-tracing so as to identify and suppress outbreaks early. This is accompanied by a clear, consistent message that is sustainable because it gives people autonomy (see article). Those are the building blocks of successful anticovid-19 strategies everywhere.
The lesson from the new Swedish policy is not that it is libertarian, but that the government weighs up the trade-offs of each restriction. For instance, when someone tests positive, their entire household must go into quarantine, but schoolchildren are exempt—because, the government reckons, the gains from shutting them away are overwhelmed by the lasting harm to their education. Likewise, the quarantine lasts five to seven days, compared to two weeks elsewhere. The risk of spreading Covid-19 in the second week is small and shrinking, but the harm to mental health of extended isolation is growing.
Sweden is a high-trust society, where people follow the rules. And yet its approach is based on the idea that, as covid-19 is here for a long time, asking too much of people will lower compliance and thus spread the disease. Low-trust societies may need a different balance between coercion and self-policing but they, too, need sustainable rules.
And what of masks? Sweden’s fans seize on mask-free crowds in Stockholm as proof of its liberty. But that is not the basis for its policy. Government experts argue that the evidence that masks help is weak, and that their other measures work fine. In this, Sweden is out of step with other countries. If the disease charges back there, that is likely to change. After all, its policy is based on evidence and pragmatism, not blind principle”
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