Sweden could have avoided four in 10 Covid deaths with early lockdown

New study indicates nine-week shutdown would have prevented spread of virus

Passengers on a train in Stockholm in December last year amid a second wave of the virus in Sweden. Getty Images
Passengers on a train in Stockholm in December last year amid a second wave of the virus in Sweden. Getty Images

An early lockdown could have prevented nearly 40 per cent of Sweden’s coronavirus deaths in the first wave, a study suggests.

The country, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, mainly relied on social distancing and personal hygiene measures at the start of the crisis.

As Sweden stayed open, economies across Europe were put into hibernation to try and prevent the spread of the virus.

Nearly 6,000 Swedes died of Covid-19 in the first six months in the pandemic, a death rate per capita many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than most European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Three German economists now estimate 2,000 of those deaths could have been avoided if a nine-week lockdown had been imposed on March 15.

The group, led by Benjamin Born at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, modelled the potential effects of a lockdown by examining how infection rates changed in countries with similar outbreaks, demographics and populations. The main countries used for the comparison were Norway, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.

The analysis showed about 75 per cent of Sweden’s infections and 38 per cent of its deaths would have been prevented with a minor economic impact. The study was published in the science journal PLOS One.

Prof Gernot Muller from Tubingen University, a co-author of the study, said a lockdown during the first wave would have “lowered infections and deaths substantially”.

“But because lockdowns also come with social costs which we do not analyse, we are not taking a stand as to whether Sweden should have imposed a lockdown,” he said.

Sweden has faced three waves of infection, the latest in December and March, but Covid-19 cases are now falling.

It has registered 13,812 new cases since Friday, the latest statistics showed on Tuesday. That compares with 14,950 cases during the corresponding period last week.

The country of 10 million people has recorded 44 new deaths since Friday, taking the total to 14,217.

Restrictions including an 8.30pm closing time for restaurants and customer number limits for shops remain in place until later this month, and sports venues and public pools will remain effectively closed to visitors until then, too.

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Published: May 12, 2021 12:10 PM

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