Leveraging epidemiological principles to evaluate Sweden's COVID-19 response

Stefan Baral, Rebecca Chandler, Ruth Gil Prieto, Sunetra Gupta, Sharmistha Mishra, Martin Kulldorff

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

Abstract

In the response to COVID-19, countries have implemented response strategies along a continuum of population- and venue-level specificity ranging from suppression to mitigation strategies. Suppression strategies generally include population-wide shelter-in-place mandates or lockdowns, closure of nonessential physical venues, travel bans, testing and contact tracing, and quarantines. Sweden followed a mitigation strategy focused on risk-tailored approaches to mitigate specific acquisition risks among the elderly, minimizing the disruption to education and the delivery of other health care services, and recommendations for social distancing to minimize the disease burden. To date, Sweden has reported higher case counts and attributable mortality than other Scandinavian countries and lower than other Northern European countries. However, there are several limitations with comparison given heterogeneity in testing strategies, suspected and confirmed case definitions, and assessment of attributable mortality. The decisions in Sweden also reflect social priorities such as equity being a foundational principle of Swedish social systems. Consistently, in-person education for those aged less than 16 years continued throughout. Notably, the mitigation strategy did not eliminate the inequitable impacts of COVID-19 cases and mortality in Sweden with higher-exposure and generally lower-income occupations being associated with higher risks intersecting with these communities often residing in more dense multigenerational households. From January 1 to November 15, there has been a 1.8% increase in all-cause mortality in 2020 compared with the average of 2015-2019, representing an excess of 14.3 deaths per 100,000 population. However, the final assessment of excess deaths in Sweden in 2020 including stratification by age and integration of secular trends can only be calculated in the coming years. In response to increasing cases in the fall of 2020, Sweden has continued to leverage business-oriented regulations and public-oriented guidelines for social distancing rather than police-enforced mandates. Ultimately, pandemics present no winners. Countries have implemented a range of different COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies responsive to their own priorities and legal systems including equity and the balancing of competing health priorities. Given these varied approaches, countries that pursued elimination, suppression, or mitigation strategies can collaboratively learn from both successes and challenges of the different strategies to inform COVID-19 and future pandemic responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-26
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of epidemiology
Volume54
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Education
  • Epidemiology
  • Equity
  • Europe
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sweden

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology

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