Mass death and economic devastation in Sweden, and conservatives want to be like them

Among countries with more than 1,000 deaths, this is the world top-10 rankings that no one wants to be in:

Country Deaths per 1 million population
Belgium 795
Spain 598
Italy 537
UK 536
France 432
Sweden 389
Netherlands 338
Ireland 321
USA 292
Switzerland 220

Most countries on that list have gotten the pandemic under control, even Italy has begun to open up, except two—the United States and Sweden (and the UK isn’t great, either). Expect those three countries to keep moving up this chart. In fact, Sweden is likely to surpass France for the number five slot by the end of the next week. (The U.S. should exceed 500 deaths per million before the end of this year unless conservatives finally decide to take this pandemic seriously.)  

But Sweden really stands out, given how they stack up to their Nordic neighbors. 

Country Deaths per 1 million population
Sweden 389
Denmark 97
Finland 55
Norway 43
Iceland 29

These countries all have similar cultural, geographic, climate, and governmental factors. The big and only difference? Sweden pretended nothing had to change. 

At the center of Sweden’s deadly experiment is Anders Tegnell, straight out of central casting for playing the villain in a Die Hard movie. Except less people died in Die Hard movies. He is chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, and his theory was that letting the coronavirus run unchecked in his country would quickly lead to herd immunity and minimal impact on the country’s economy. It’s a wonderful theory, except that no one took it seriously except our Swedish villain Tegnell. 

“In major parts of Sweden, around Stockholm, we have reached a plateau (in new cases) and we’re already seeing the effect of herd immunity and in a few weeks’ time we’ll see even more of the effects of that. And in the rest of the country, the situation is stable,” Tegnell told CNBC back on April 28, three weeks ago. Herd immunity is anywhere between 70-90%. 

“In a few weeks time” was the timeline, so where are we three weeks later? “Sweden has revealed that despite adopting more relaxed measures to control coronavirus, only 7.3% of people in Stockholm had developed the antibodies needed to fight the disease by late April,” reported CNN yesterday. 

That is pretty much the same level of antibodies found in other countries that had lockdowns! In the U.S., it is estimated that between 5-15% of Americans have immunity. Tegnell, who claimed Stockholm would have herd immunity by now, suddenly sang a different tune, claiming that the results were a “little lower” than expected “but not remarkably lower, maybe one or a couple of percent.” 

I don’t know about you, but 7.3% seems to be more than 1-2% lower than 70-90% needed for herd immunity. Turns out, the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on deadly villainy at the highest levels of government. 

But hey, the good news is that they’re at 10% of the levels needed for herd immunity, so they only have ten times as much death to get there, right? On that chart above, that would mean close to 4,000 dead per million, which would make them the undisputed worldwide champs. Not even Trump could mismanage this crisis that bad. 

And there’s a punchline: Sweden’s economy is projected to suffer the most out of the entire European block this year. So keeping stuff open didn’t even save its economy! It made things worse.  As we’ve been arguing, there’s no economy as long as we see our fellow humans as vectors of disease. 

Now, none of this would matter directly to us here in the United States as we try to grapple with this deadly disease while hampered by rank incompetence at the federal level. But the problem is, conservatives from Tucker Carlson, to the National Review, to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul keep talking about following the “Swedish model.” They see open stores, and ignore everything else that could have plausibly made the strategy work (like universal health care). 

But figures. They have embraced death as a guiding principle, so figures they would gaze longingly at the one country that promises to deliver even more death and economic destruction than what we here at home, in the United States, are facing.