Perhaps no country in the world has been the subject of more debate and scrutiny during the Coronavirus pandemic than Sweden. In the eyes of those who oppose the lockdown approach adopted by almost every other western country, Sweden is the example of a country that has successfully battled the virus without imposing draconian restrictions on daily life, and without imperilling its economy.

Some have characterised this as a “herd immunity” approach – allowing the virus to spread amongst the population in a controlled way in order to build up population immunity and reduce the number of new cases over time. Others have praised Sweden for achieving a remarkable success against the virus by apparently having fewer cases through the summer, and into the autumn, compared to its lockdown-embracing European cousins.

Throughout the summer, much commentary focused on the idea that Sweden was getting it right, and the lockdown countries were getting it wrong, and that the rest of the world would be forced to shift its approach to bring it in line with Sweden.

But in recent weeks, the apparent success of that approach has begun to fade. Here are the current case graphs for the UK, the USA, and Sweden, per million people. Notice anything?

And Sweden’s top Epidemiologist – the mastermind behind their unique approach, is sounding the alarm – and last week ordered the country’s first regional lockdown:

It is “futile and immoral” to seek herd immunity as a protection from a pandemic, and the transmission of an infectious disease like Covid-19 cannot be fully halted without a vaccine, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has said.

During the first wave of Covid-19 outbreaks in Europe earlier this year, Sweden decided against a national lockdown and its schools, restaurants, and shops remained open. However, people aged over 70 were cautioned to limit their social contacts.

Die Zeit reported that Dr Tegnell, who was the key person behind that approach, said Sweden is now at a critical juncture as the number of daily cases has increased by 70 per cent in a week. 

Last week, Sweden had its first regional lockdown when around 170,000 citizens of Uppsala, a town near Stockholm, were asked to work from home. They were also asked to avoid social gatherings, physical contact and public transport.

And they didn’t stop just in one region:

The Health Agency also moved to tighten pandemic recommendations for three additional regions, including Sweden’s biggest cities Stockholm and Gothenburg, saying infection rates were rising sharply in these areas.

Sweden has relied primarily on voluntary measures, largely unenforced but still widely adhered to. The new tighter local recommendations, already introduced in two regions with surging infections, included advice to avoid indoor environments such as shops and gyms.

Sweden’s alternative approach to the Coronavirus, up to now, has not come without costs, either. The death rate from the virus in Sweden is the 17th highest in the world – better than the UK, the USA, and Italy, but nearly 150% the death rate of Ireland. In Ireland, we have lost 384 people out of every one million to Covid. In Sweden, they’ve lost 586 people out of every one million. In terms of deaths, whether we like it or not, the Irish record is vastly better than the Swedish one.

And with cases now surging again in Sweden, and that country starting to embrace local lockdowns, is it time to re-assess the almost religious belief in some quarters that the Swedish model has been an unqualified success? That idea might not be popular with a majority of our readers, but the figures are what they are.