Coronavirus in Europe: Sweden opts for herd immunity

The Scandinavian country has adopted a starkly different approach to the global COVID-19 health crisis

Amidst the eerie calm of European streets due to nationwide quarantine measures, Sweden’s businesses remain bustling with energy, and customers. The Scandinavian country has adopted a starkly different approach to the global COVID-19 health crisis, despite overwhelming international criticism, coined herd immunity.

Swedish health authorities have urged elderly citizens to stay home, while encouraging the younger population to forgo the hysteria and panic, and continue life as normal.

Herd immunity functions as a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population becomes immune to infection.

The “business as usual” mentality has garnered high levels of public support, as only 31% of Swedes say they are “very” or “somewhat” scared that they will contract COVID-19 - the lowest in the world. However, the country ranks 5th on highest global risk (0.0024%), and virologists have voiced increasing concerns regarding the validity of their approach.

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Stockholm region's health director Björn Eriksson told Swedish radio: "Up until now the healthcare system has been one step ahead of the virus", but he warned "the storm was growing". Sweden has only been testing serious cases and health workers, skewing data models that chart virus evolution.

The unreliable numbers concerning hospital admissions and fatalities fails to observe the two-week lag between diagnosis and death. Sweden’s Nordic neighbors have fueled public debates on introducing stricter measures, that have reached as far as the Swedish parliament.

They will be consulted this week before the government takes any new emergency steps, which could include shutting down airports, train and bus stations, shops and restaurants. Other isolation tactics such as banning social gatherings of more than 50 people, and initiating online classes at universities and high schools, are also up for consideration.

However as death estimates remain in the hundreds, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell argues that it is important for a part of the population to acquire immunity.

The country’s coronavirus strategy is always viewed as an attempt to slow the spread of infection so that health services are not overwhelmed.

Originally adopted by the UK and the Netherlands as well, soaring death numbers prompted those countries to switch objectives. Sweden has not yet conceded to international pressure, but the country’s steeping infection curve may inspire a change in course as well.