Suddenly, everyone wants to talk about Sweden.
How did they do it? How do they continue to do it?
“It,” of course, is Sweden taking on coronavirus without ordering most of its populace to stay home, without mandating the closure of schools and universities, without requiring restaurants and bars to shut their doors to customers, without forcing countless medium-sized businesses and smaller mom-and-pop operations to lock up. All done to try and “flatten the curve,” or at least make the spread and overall impact of the COVID-19 virus less terrible, less deadly.
Sweden did none of that. That’s not to say the leadership of the Scandinavian country we’re particularly fond of around these parts – yes, Norway is probably nearest and dearest to our hearts, and we appreciate the particularly hearty Fins, too – just sat on their hands and did nothing as the threat of COVID-19 became all too real. Gatherings of more than 50 people were banned. Museums closed. Sporting events, cancelled. Eventually, visits to nursing homes were prohibited.
But that’s basically the extent of what Swedes were forced to do in response to the pandemic.
And, yet, Sweden’s statistics as far as infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are lower than the worldwide average. Their news broadcasts, while always reporting the latest on the pandemic, haven’t been deluged with selfie videos of nurses and doctors battling on the “frontlines,” frantically begging for more personal protective equipment, more ventilators, more everything.
At the heart of Sweden’s strategy…well, it’s incredibly simple. Like, one word simple: Trust.
When the Swedish government went against conventional wisdom emerging in Asia, Europe and the United States to send people home and essentially shut down economies, public officials there cited trust as their central justification for bucking the worldwide trend.
They trusted their citizens to stay home more than they would have under more normal circumstances. When they were out and about, going to school, going out to eat, Swedes were trusted to practice social distancing. They were trusted to make a concerted effort to wash their hands in appropriate fashion. They were trusted to be smart, to use common sense, to do the right thing.
You’d think it would all add up to be a recipe for disaster, but, compared to the pandemic response in the United States, Sweden has coped rather well. Yes, their nursing homes have been hit hard, and there have been complaints about an insufficient supply of PPE in those facilities. Yes, more than 26% of Sweden’s two million people have been infected, but the death rate has been lower by comparison, and once you reach a certain rate of infection and most recover and develop some immunity, you limit the possibility of an even bigger second wave of the virus, you get closer to finding reliable, effective treatments, and you’re closer to the big one, a COVID-19 vaccine.
Trust. Mutual trust, the government in its people, and the people in their government. In Sweden, so far at least, it has been the key component to the country as a whole keeping a level head by comparison, as most of the rest of the world appears to spin into a frenzy of fear, panic and rage.
Could trust have been the foundation of a similar pandemic strategy and response in the United States?
Look in the mirror. Take an honest, unflinching look around you, at your country. At its leaders. The unfortunate answer is, not likely.