Sweden are one of the only European countries to have opted for no lockdown, but have they reached the herd immunity they were hoping for?

Sweden is one of the only European countries to have decided to not impose a lockdown upon its residents during the initial coronavirus outbreak. It meant Swedes were able to go about daily life, relatively unperturbed, apart from a government restriction upon gatherings of more than 50.

Although, it is now perceived to have changed Swedish behaviour, despite the official lockdown. GDP spending reduced dramatically during the initial outbreak, with consumers spending 25% less in Sweden, compared to 29% in Denmark.

Sweden’s Economy Nearly as Affected as Denmark

It seems, Sweden have been nearly as affected by coronavirus economically, as its fellow Scandinavian neighbour Denmark. Denmark however, did impose a lockdown, as one of the first countries to do so on the 11th March, and who then became one of the first to reopen.

Voluntary Lockdown

Despite few government restrictions, it appears Swedes voluntarily imposed lockdown upon themselves. This is in reference to 40% less travel recorded during the height of the outbreak. It can be thought that travel was largely used by younger generations during the worst of the outbreak, with those over 70 imagined to be self-isolating. If 40% of the total travel footfall lessened, with the elderly staying indoors already; a large proportion of Swedes chose to not travel and therefore chose to impose self-lockdown.

Deaths in Sweden V’s Norway

Despite the change of attitude within Sweden,  coronavirus has taken its toll upon the largely spread population. Sweden currently has had 57 deaths per 100,000, with its similar geographic Norwegian neighbour, faring at only 5 deaths per 100,000. Norway is 30% smaller than Sweden, which literally means less space for inhabitants to live, in comparison to Sweden. Although it does seem Norway’s inhabitants are more spread out, there are 15 people per km2 in Norway, compared to 25 per km2 in Sweden. Sweden’s population is twice the size of Norway.

Nevertheless, deaths per 100,000 is the most essential figure to ponder, and Sweden undoubtedly come in at a tragic death toll in comparison to Norway, who are not too dissimilar in population spread.

Britain’s population is 11 Times More Dense Than Sweden

What becomes really alarming, is the comparison to the UK. The UK has 70 deaths per 100,000 recorded, this is only 13 more than Sweden, with the UK’s population over six times that of Sweden (66.65 million in the UK). With a far larger population density to boot; Britain has 275 people per km2 compared to Sweden’s 25!

It is these figures that illustrate the impact coronavirus has had upon Sweden. Despite devastation, and their playing down of it…

Have they achieved herd immunity?

According to New Scientist, Sweden has only experienced an antibody rate of 20% within the Stockholm population. Antibodies are created when the body is introduced to a new infection and this is largely how vaccines work. The reference is made in comparison to London who also are believed to have hit the 20% mark. 

If Sweden has only achieved a 20% infection rate and therefore herd immunity within its most populous city, then has the goal been achieved? They have not benefitted economically, as according to New Scientist, their GDP dropped lower than other countries like the Czech Republic and Lithuania who instigated lockdown.

Yet, the figures do not express this. It is reported in other media that Sweden has a 1 in 5 antibodies rate within Stockholm, which would translate to 20% also. This perhaps takes those with asymptomatic infection into account, but the actual records of infection tell a different story. Of 975,904 people within Stockholm, only 23,101 were infected within Stockholm. This is less than 2.5%, nowhere near 20%. Additionally, the number of those experiencing asymptomatic infection is speculated to be very small, which would therefore not proportionately make up for the remaining 17-18%.

Reports even go on to compare to London, who has comparatively experienced infection rates of 20%, similar to the perceived Stockholm. This is deceiving however as London has a population over 10 times the size of Stockholm. Although, it is suggested Stockholm is just as dense (closely packed) as London.

It is difficult to say at this time if Sweden achieved herd immunity as the pandemic has only been since February/March this year. There also seems to be a lot of conflicting data. Herd immunity can only ever be achieved if 80% of a population bear antibodies. So far, Stockholm is showing (reportedly) signs of 20% infection (antibodies). Nowhere near the 80%. The data is also conflicting regarding London, who have experienced over 35,000 coronavirus cases, but the population is nearly 10 million. This is not 20% of the population, it is not even 0.5%. 

Of course, there could be far more cases unknown than known, but this would require an entire population to be tested to be sure. Sample populations are instead being used.

It could be said that the virus has spread just as efficiently in London as it has in Stockholm, but with London’s population resting on ten times that of Stockholm, the numbers aren’t comparable. In fact, half of Swedish households are occupied by singles.

So, has Sweden achieved herd immunity? Sweden is far from establishing herd immunity, although there have been many deaths for a spread out, wealthy, non-ethnic and largely single country. This is quite contrary to their claims. If Sweden had the population of the UK, they would hypothetically have had at least 50,000 deaths.

It is a large price to pay for something as elusive as herd immunity, which may take years to establish. 

How many people will Sweden have lost by then?