In the past week, Sweden has led the way in per capita coronavirus deaths, surpassing Spain, Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom, according to data collected by the Financial Times. This is a figure that stands out from its Nordic neighbours and that many attribute to the strategy implemented in the Scandinavian country, where no containment measures have been put in place to minimise the impact on the economy.

In particular, 3,831 people have lost their lives in Sweden, for a total population of approximately 10 million. This means that, during the whole pandemic, the country stands at 380 deaths per million inhabitants. By comparison, Denmark, Finland and Norway, with populations of around 5 million, have recorded 351, 301 and 233 deaths, respectively.

Considering the time of the epidemic in which they occur, the Swedish rate is the highest in the world; 61 days after the death rate exceeded 0.1 deaths per million population, an average of 6.4 people per day die in Sweden (calculating the average of the 7 days prior to the measurement). At the same point, 6.2 people per day died in the United Kingdom, 5.5 in Italy and 4 in Spain.

Sweden’s strategy against coronavirus is unique. Faced with the more or less strict quarantine measures implemented by other European countries hit by the pandemic, the Nordic country has chosen to implement a few bans (meetings of more than 50 people, for example) and to appeal to the responsibility of citizens, who have been advised to work from home and to take precautions of social distance. In other words, day-care centres, bars, restaurants, gyms and shops remain open and citizens retain their freedom of movement.

Even so, it is difficult to attribute these figures to a single cause. The mortality rate can vary according to the method of counting the dead, for which there is no international standard. For example, some countries include in the official statistics those cases where the deceased had the coronavirus at the time of death, while others require that it be recorded as a major cause on death certificates.

Similarly, factors such as the ageing of the population, population density, geographical concentration of infections, movement of people between different parts of the country, the resources of the health system in question or the attitude of citizens to health recommendations or possible regulations can have a significant impact on the outcome.

Similarly, the criteria for testing among the population, as well as the number of tests in relation to the number of inhabitants, have a similar impact on the numbers of those infected.

Even so, taking these values into account, many scientists have proposed Scandinavia as the best case we have for comparing different strategies for two reasons: the similarity in demographic, economic and political terms between the five countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland) and the particularity of the Swedish model in managing the epidemic.

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