You know who isn’t worried about a second wave of COVID-19? Sweden. The stolid Scandinavian kingdom has just carried out a record number of COVID-19 tests and found a positive rate of just 1.2%, the lowest since the start of the pandemic. As Sweden’s case rate drops below Norway’s and Denmark’s, those commentators who spent April and May raging against what a Washington Post op-ed called its “experiment with national chauvinism” and predicting colossal fatalities have suddenly gone quiet.
“Sweden has gone from being one of the countries with the most infection in Europe to one of those with the least infection in Europe, while many other countries have seen a rather dramatic increase,” says Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist.
True, and it has happened not despite the absence of a lockdown but because of it. Sweden encouraged people to work from home, made university courses remote, and banned meetings of more than 50 people but otherwise trusted its citizens to use their common sense. The authorities judged that since hospitals could cope, there was no need to buy time by ordering people to stay indoors. That judgment has been amply vindicated.
A cause for unalloyed joy, you might think. Here, after all, is proof that a country can contain the coronavirus without depriving children of an education, piling up backlogs of non-coronavirus medical conditions, or leaving a smoking crater where its economy used to be.
But the rest of the world is far from pleased. Indeed, the tone of most foreign media coverage remains affronted, and you can see why. After all, if Sweden’s strategy was viable, the rest of us ruined ourselves for nothing. That is a disquieting thought, almost an unbearable one. But Sweden forces us to confront it.