I’m tired of the debate about Sweden

Can everyone just stop claiming that Canada, or Ontario, or this or that province would have been better off, if we had just adopted Sweden’s model for dealing with COVID-19.

The simple truth is, we don’t know and won’t know for some time which method worked best.

What I can tell you though is that it would be a tough sell to try and convince Canadians to adopt a model that, based on outcomes so far, would mean more deaths. That’s the reality of the situation right now.

Don’t take my word for it

The researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been keeping a COVID-19 data portal going for some time right now. They take information from around the world and provide easy to compare data on how a country is performing.

Sure, some countries like China, I don’t believe their claims for a second, but Johns Hopkins publishes the data. I would imagine that we could trust data from Sweden as much as we could trust data from Canada.

Now the two countries took radically different approaches to COVID-19. Initially, there was no change in either country as the virus showed up. Eventually, Sweden chose the herd immunity route while Canada, led by provincial governments, chose lockdowns.

I’m the first to admit that Sweden has done better that other countries, including some that chose the lockdown route or a hybrid model. As you can see in the chart below, Sweden has a lower deaths per 100,000 of population than Belgium, Chile, Spain, Brazil, the UK, the US and Italy just to name a few fairly well developed countries.

Yet Sweden’s deaths per 100,000 of population, a rather standard measure of comparison between jurisdictions, is more than double that of Canada.

How does Canada compare?

You can see where Canada sits on this chart compared to Sweden in this image, I had to scroll down a bit for this.

Now look at those numbers and ask yourself, if you were the politician in charge, would you want to go before the people and say that you have a better way but it involves many more deaths?

I understand the arguments about herd immunity. I understand the idea that lives and businesses have been ruined, that the economic impact takes a toll on health and even on lives.

Put yourself in the shoes of any politician looking at these numbers and tell me that you would be willing to walk out and tell the public that your new plan to deal with COVID-19 will cause less economic pain but more people will die.

You can’t argue that Sweden has had more deaths per 100,000 than Canada.

It’s an indisputable fact

If Canada had Sweden’s deaths per 100,000 then we would be looking at having a lot more funerals than we have had so far. In fact, if Canada had Sweden’s deaths per 100,000 then we would have more than double the deaths we have now.

Currently, there have been 9,188 deaths reported by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the deaths per 100,000 for the whole country sits at 24.9. If, as a country, our deaths per 100,000 matched Sweden then we would be looking at 21,758.

Would you be willing to take a 42% increase in deaths to adopt Sweden’s model?

Provincially, were we to break it down that way, every single province, except Quebec, would see a massive increase in deaths. Is that something you could do?

They all took the same path

I note that across the country there are Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments at the provincial level. In Quebec and Saskatchewan there are governments often described as conservative leaning but which are anything but that – they are odd coalitions.

Yet in each of these jurisdictions they have followed a somewhat similar path, based on public health advice. It is the actions of these premiers that have resulted in Canada having a better outcome than Sweden, the US, the UK, Italy and more.

Economically speaking

One of the claims of those who prefer the Swedish model is that they didn’t shut down their society or their economy, that everything just kept moving along. That is demonstrably not true.

According this report from the BBC, Sweden’s economy shrank 8.6% over the April to June period. By comparison, according to this CBC story, Canada’s economy shrank 11.5%, over the same time period.

So the question you have to ask yourself is whether that 2.9% differential in economic slowdown is worth the extra 12,570 lives that very likely would have been lost had we followed the Swedish model?

Time will tell

Maybe once this is all said and done, we will find out that Sweden took the wiser approach. Maybe, once we have this virus under control we will find out that they had fewer deaths per 100,000 and fewer side effects because they chose not to go into lockdown.

At this point, we can’t say that. Not compared to Canada.

If you think that the Swedish model is the right way to go then I encourage you to stop what you are doing now and run for office. Tell the public about your great new plan and see how far that gets you.