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Dr. Martin Kulldorff: "Among the 1.8 million children in Sweden during this first wave, there were exactly zero deaths from COVID. And that was without using masks, without social distancing and without any testing. If a child was sick, they were told to stay home. That was it."
That was leading epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff on his native country's response to the China-virus pandemic. While most of the world shut down, masked up and stayed home due to the spread of COVID in 2020, Sweden's authorities took a step back from harsh lockdowns and health mandates.
The Swedish government has not required its citizens to mask up, stop social gatherings or suspend school in response to the pandemic. Authorities instead suggested voluntary social distancing, staying local and self-monitoring for signs of sickness.
Critics around the globe blasted Sweden's pandemic response — a stark contrast to most country's overreaching lockdown measures. Many so-called health professionals predicted a massive rise in COVID deaths for Sweden, thinking the nation's pandemic strategy would be a failure.
Now, Sweden is proving its virus response is not a failure, but perhaps a success. Sweden's economy and mental health are among the best in Europe, while many lockdown countries have suffered business closures as well as depression and suicide.
But the country hasn't weathered the pandemic unscathed. The country's elderly took a hard hit, accounting for a majority of the Swedish mortality rate.
Dr. Anders Tegnell, architect of Sweden's virus response, admitted this issue.
Dr. Tegnell: "What has not worked out very well is our death toll; mainly due to that our elderly, our homes for elderly, have not been able to keep the disease out."
Early in the pandemic, Swedish authorities quickly recognized the threat to nursing homes and moved into focused protection. Stanford medical professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya explains this approach.
Dr. Bhattacharya: "As best they could to try to do focused protection, asking — in their Swedish way — asking the older population to stay at home, to isolate themselves and telling everyone else to go about your business."
Sweden already saw a wave of cases, largely the so-called delta variant, in April. Regardless, the country's COVID death rate is one of the lowest in Europe and continues to drop. As the delta variant and threats of more lockdowns loom over mandate-weary populations, Sweden's hands-off strategy, high morale and low death rate provide a promising alternative.