A Tale of Two Countries

Courtesy of Reuters

Written by Carly Kramer

Among some libertarian and conservative Americans, Sweden’s hands-off strategy for fighting Covid-19 has been lauded for preserving individual freedom. During a hearing about the coronavirus in September, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky stated, “It’s important that we the people not simply acquiesce to authoritarian mandates.” The senator, who is also a doctor, was referring to Sweden. But when compared to the success of its neighbor Denmark, which has taken a more proactive approach to handling the virus’ spread, it is clear that we should not follow Sweden’s example.

Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, is responsible for shaping the country’s response to the pandemic. Swedish officials have emphasized in interviews that the country’s culture is much different from the United States. At the center of Sweden’s strategy is achieving herd immunity, where a large portion of the population would hypothetically become immune to a disease, decreasing the virus’ risk. In April, the government claimed that 40 percent of Stockholm’s residents would be immune to Covid-19 by May 2020. In reality, only 11.4 percent of the population had antibodies to the virus by that time. Moreover, Sweden has one of the highest death rates in the world. According to Time Magazine, Sweden had 58.6 deaths per 100,000 people as of Oct.13. About half of these deaths have been in the country’s nursing homes. 

Meanwhile, Denmark imposed a lockdown on March 11, before the country had any virus-related deaths. After Italy, Denmark was the second European nation to lock down. Schools, daycares, and some businesses were closed, and non-essential employees began working from home. By April 15, the country began to gradually reopen. When cases increased across Europe in August, Denmark showed flexibility and reversed its reopening strategy to address the surge. Overall, Denmark has had far fewer cases and a lower mortality rate than Sweden. According to Time Magazine, only 11.58 people have died per 100,000 residents. 

In the United States, a number of states have followed Sweden’s lead with similarly poor results. North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Idaho were among a handful of American states that did not impose strict lockdowns in March and April of this year. North and South Dakota, in particular, have taken a “libertarian” approach to handling the virus. Until November, neither state had issued a stay-at-home order or a mask mandate. In an op-ed in the Rapid City Journal, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem wrote, “I’m going to continue to trust South Dakotans to make wise and well-informed decisions for themselves and their families.” South Dakota’s performance, however, has been the second-worst in the nation. According to data from the New York Times, as of Nov. 15, South Dakota had 164.8 cases per 100,000 people. By comparison, the United States had 43.9 cases per 100,000 people. 

More than 240,000 Americans have died from the virus in the United States, and experts have predicted that nearly 200,000 more Americans could die between now and February 2021. One reason the virus has devastated the country is that different states have different approaches toward stopping the spread of Covid-19. Some states, taking a similar approach to Sweden, never imposed strict lockdowns or loosened restrictions too quickly. 

In October, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated his strong opposition to the strategy of herd immunity in the United States. In an interview on ABC, Dr. Fauci explained, “you’ll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense.” To put it simply and unequivocally, the United States should not follow Sweden’s example. Already, the number of Americans who have died from this disease is double the number of U.S. servicemen killed during World War I. As we move into the potentially deadly winter, we should look instead at countries like Denmark that have effectively slowed the spread of this disease. 

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