How did Sweden Fail the Pandemic?

Int J Health Serv. 2021 Oct;51(4):417-422. doi: 10.1177/0020731421994848. Epub 2021 Feb 26.


Sweden has since the start of the pandemic a COVID-19 mortality rate that is 4 to 10 times higher than in the other Nordic countries. Also, measured as age-standardized all-cause excess mortality in the first half of 2020 compared to previous years Sweden failed in comparison with the other Nordic countries, but only among the elderly. Sweden has large socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities in COVID-19 mortality. Geographical, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequalities in mortality can be due to differential exposure to the virus, differential immunity, and differential survival. Most of the country differences are due to differential exposure, but the socioeconomic disparities are mainly driven by differential survival due to an unequal burden of comorbidity. Sweden suffered from an unfortunate timing of tourists returning from virus hotspots in the Alps and Sweden's government response came later and was much more limited than elsewhere. The government had an explicit priority to protect the elderly in nursing and care homes but failed to do so. The staff in elderly care are less qualified and have harder working conditions in Sweden, and they lacked adequate care for the clients. Sweden has in recent years diverged from the Scandinavian welfare model by strong commercialization of primary care and elderly care.

Keywords: COVID-19; Sweden; inequality; policy.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Welfare
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sweden / epidemiology