No-Lockdown European Country Sees Lowest Pandemic Excess Deaths

No-Lockdown European Country Sees Lowest Pandemic Excess Deaths
People have lunch at a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Sweden, which imposed very few restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, had one of the lowest excess mortality rates in Europe and the world during that period, according to data from Eurostat.

The annual excess mortality for the European Union in 2021 was 14 percent higher than the pre-pandemic 2016-2019 period per Eurostat data. Meanwhile, Sweden only had an excess mortality rate below 5 percent in 2021. Several other nations had higher rates, with Bulgaria reporting close to 40 percent excess deaths. While excess mortality for the EU in 2022 stood at 11 percent, Sweden’s rate was just 4.1 percent.
Other calculations have also reported similar findings. An estimate by The Spectator puts cumulative excess deaths in Sweden during the pandemic from 2020 to 2023 at just 3 percent. In comparison, excess death numbers in the United States during this period was at 17 percent, the UK at 10 percent, and Australia at 7 percent.

Out of 100,000 individuals, excess deaths in Sweden were 72.7 compared to 527.8 in the United States, 292.1 in the UK, and 134.6 in Australia.

Unlike many other nations that jumped in and implemented strict lockdowns—including shutting down schools, churches, and businesses—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Swedish authorities decided to keep society functioning as normal.

Although Sweden did prohibit mass gatherings, children went to schools, and adults were free to gather at bistros. The government encouraged remote working wherever possible.

Sweden’s COVID-19 Policies

During the pandemic period, media outlets decried Sweden’s coronavirus response. The New York Times published an article in July 2020 claiming that “Sweden Has Become The World’s Cautionary Tale.” In December 2020, Foreign Policy ran a story about “The Inside Story of How Sweden Botched Its Coronavirus Response.”

And yet, Sweden has come out at the top in the least number of excess deaths during the pandemic while imposing fewer COVID-19 restrictions.

Anders Tegnell was the architect of Sweden’s public health policies during the pandemic. Tegnell’s policies were initially popular in his home country. But his methods eventually began to be criticized, with some pointing out that Sweden had more COVID-19 deaths than its Nordic neighbors.

But with the latest data showing that Sweden, in fact, had fewer excess mortality than other nations, the country’s COVID-19 policies are once more in the spotlight.

“Quite astounding: Sweden took a lot of flack for its Covid19 policies. But actually, Sweden has done best in Europe over 2020-22 measuring excess mortality in percent of total mortality,” Bjorn Lomborg, director of the think-tank Copenhagen Consensus Center, said in a March 4 tweet.

Ineffective COVID Restrictions, US Situation

Large-scale lockdowns imposed during the pandemic have been criticized by experts. In a Jan. 19 essay (pdf) published by the Fraser Institute, Douglas Allen, an economics professor at Simon Fraser University, said that widespread, economy-wide lockdown policies were “a disaster.” Such policies only had “marginal effects on the ultimate number of deaths, but imposed enormous costs,” he stated.

Fraser blamed lockdowns for creating “collateral deaths,” which includes individuals observing self-protection measures that ended up raising mortality. For instance, missing regular medical checkups due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

“The most recent and thorough meta-analysis found that after combining all lockdown effects, there was only an average reduction in mortality of 3.2 percent.”

“Estimates in the US show that there were 171,000 excess non-COVID-19 deaths through to the end of 2021. By that time the US had recorded 825,929 COVID-19 deaths. However, if lockdowns only reduce deaths by 3.2 percent, then only 27,303 lives were saved by lockdowns. Just on collateral deaths alone the cost/benefit ratio of lockdown is 171,000/27,303 = 6.26,” Fraser wrote.

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