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Sweden’s Covid-19 story compared to Australia’s.

Sweden is taking a different approach to managing Covid-19 to Australia, avoiding lockdowns and law making to limit its spread. In Sweden, the only legal restriction is on gatherings of more than 50 people, although informal distancing measures are increasingly being followed.

Worldwide, Covid-19 cases have now exceeded 3 million with 212,799 deaths.

Here is a comparison of some data for Sweden and Australia, in a snapshot we took at 7.40am today, April 29.

Sweden’s population is: 10.1 million. Australia’s population is: 25.5 million. Note that raw figures are irrelevant in this exercise. It’s the proportions we are considering. And it’s the proportion of deaths to infections where Australia and Sweden are most different right now.

The number of infections to date in Sweden is 19,621 and the number of deaths in Sweden is currently 2,355.  The number of infections to date in Australia is 6,731 and Australia’s number of deaths is 88.  

So about 12 per cent of those who have been infected in Sweden have died and in Australia this figure is about 1.3 per cent.

Patterns of death are similar – but not the numbers

The distribution of deaths across each age group in each country is similar.

In Sweden the highest proportion of their 2355 deaths from Covid-19 have been in the over 60-year-olds, that is 2236 people. Of these, 938 were over the age of 80.

The numbers go down in the next age group, the over 90s, probably because there are far fewer of them to begin with.

Australia’s mortality figures for deaths in the elderly take a similar shape. Eighty three of our 88 deaths have been in those over the age of 60. Of these, 44 were over the age of 80.

The biggest number of deaths of any age group in Australia has also been the 80-90 year olds, 26, and then it dips down for those over the age of 90, also likely to be because there are fewer people over the age of 90 to begin with.

Where the differences show

In Sweden, one in three of all the country’s Covid-19 deaths have occurred in aged care facilities, causing some to say the elderly in Sweden are paying the price for their herd immunity. While our proportions might look similar, our numbers, as a proportion of population are tiny by comparison.

Yes, Australia’s proportion of the elderly who contract the virus then die, is approximately the same as Sweden’s. But our actual numbers of deaths in these age groups are much, much lower. Despite a high proportion of our deaths occurring in nursing homes, our infection rate in them is very low, only 60 altogether in a population of 25.5 million.

In its defence, epidemiologists behind the current Swedish policy argue that at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, our death rates of the elderly will look the same, because the rate of the vulnerable elderly who die in Australia’s second and third wave will be much higher, whereas Sweden’s in that phase will be much lower. They say our early success will be cancelled out later.

Sweden is aiming for herd immunity, although it is being criticised for this by both internal and external critics.

Herd immunity science says if 60 per cent of people have either had the virus or been immunised against it, then the natural incidence of the disease will go down dramatically because far fewer people will get it, so far fewer will pass it around.

Sweden has reached 30 per cent herd immunity, said Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States,  according to the news agency Aljazeera.

But many scientists challenge the notion of herd immunity, pointing out that we do not know whether Covid-19 will mutate quickly (like the common cold and flu do) so any vaccine developed now may not be effective next season or whether if you’ve been infected by Covid-19 now, you are protected for life, like when you get the measles.

So how this is managed comes down to the social contract between a people and their government.

The Swedes might be right. But at this stage we salute Australian aged care workers for their diligence and care, and we salute the policy makers whose first strategy has been to protect us all, including our elderly. And who knows, if Australians continue to cooperate with each other, we could beat that second and third wave.

Sweden's Covid-19 story compared to Australia's - Swedish death rate at 29.4.20, Statistica.com
Sweden’s Covid-19 story compared to Australia’s – Swedish death rate at 29.4.20, Statistica.com

More reading

We need to make sure death doesn’t go up from other causes, while we’re distracted by Covid-19. To see warnings on the impact for those suffering heart disease, go to:https://good-grief.com.au/lets-avoid-collateral-damage/

For a news report on questions about the Swedish approach, go to:

https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/27/sweden-s-coronavirus-strategy-is-the-older-generation-paying-the-price

To read about the Swedish approach to herd immunity, go to:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/sweden-ambassador-stockholm-reach-herd-immunity-200427072044548.html

For Swedish figures on Covid-19 deaths by age, go to:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107913/number-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-sweden-by-age-groups/

For Australian figures on Covid-19 deaths by age, go to:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/covid-19-cases-in-australia-by-gender-and-age

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