Sweden COVID-19 Death Rate Lower Than Spain, Italy and U.K.

Correction: This article has been updated to provide greater context to the story. While it is accurate that the COVID-19 death rate in the U.K., Spain and Italy is worse than Sweden, a number of other European countries, which did impose lockdowns, have a lower death rate than Sweden.

Sweden, which attracted international notoriety for being one of the only countries to refuse a nationwide lockdown, has seen its death rate overtaken by other nations in Europe as the number of cases and deaths decline in the country, though its death rate still remains one of the highest in Europe.

The Scandinavian nation was fiercely criticized in the early stages of the pandemic for refusing to implement a lockdown, with the country's death rate in mid-April at more than 100 a day. But in the months since this has dropped and Belgium, the U.K., Spain and Italy, countries which all imposed lockdowns, now have a higher death rate.

As of August 12, the latest death rate in Sweden (deaths per 100,000 people) was reported to be 56.66, according to the latest report Sunday by Johns Hopkins University. The figure is lower than that reported in the U.K. (70.10), which has Europe's highest death toll, as well as Spain (61.17) and Italy (58.27), the two European countries that suffered the highest amount of deaths in the initial stages of the outbreak. Belgium currently has the highest COVID-19 death rate in Europe with 86.54

While the COVID-19 death rate in the Scandinavian nation is lower than the U.K., Spain, Italy and Belgium, the differences in demographics, economics and politics between countries make it difficult to asses the effectiveness of lockdowns as a strategy between nations. Aside from the four countries mentioned above, the death rate in Sweden is higher than every other European nation which did impose either a national or localized lockdown.

 Stockholm, Sweden, boat, July 2020
Travellers waiting to board a boat at Stranvagen in Stockholm, Sweden on July 27, 2020. Getty Images

Below is a list of the 10 European nations (E.U. countries plus Switzerland, Norway, and the U.K.) with the highest COVID-19 death rate, based on figures from Johns Hopkins University (as of August 12).

COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people in Europe

1 - Belgium: 86.54
2 - U.K.: 70.10
3 - Spain: 61.17
4 - Italy: 58.27
5 - Sweden: 56.66
6 - France: 45.27
7 - Ireland: 36.53
8 - Netherlands: 35.76
9 - Switzerland: 23.37
10 - Luxembourg: 20.07

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the average number of daily new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the European Union up until July 30.

COVID-19 cases in U.S. vs EU
The seven-day rolling averages of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and European Union. Getty Images

Sweden's lack of lockdown

While an official lockdown was never ordered in Sweden, the country aimed to develop "herd immunity," hoping that an increased number of people exposed to the virus would help to prevent a second wave of infections.

Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at Sweden's public health agency, noted last week: "We have cut down on movement in society quite a lot. We have compared how much we travel in Scandinavian countries, and the decrease in travel is the same in Sweden as in neighboring countries," in an interview with UnHerd.

"In many ways the voluntary measures we put in place in Sweden have been just as effective as complete lockdowns in other countries," he added.

There have been approximately 1.98 million confirmed cases in the European Union/European Economic Area and the U.K., with 180,231 deaths, according to the August 20 report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

More than 22.6 million people globally have been infected since the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China, including over 5.5 million in the U.S. More than 14.5 million globally have reportedly recovered from infection, while approximately 794,000 have died, as of August 20, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates countries with the most COVID-19 cases.

Countries with most COVID-19 cases

The graphics below, provided by Statista, illustrate the spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

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