Sweden has the highest daily coronavirus death rate in the world – and it’s getting worse

Joe Gamp
Contributor, Yahoo News UK
New data shows Sweden has the highest daily COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world. (Getty Images)

As an increasing number of European countries ease away from their coronavirus peaks, in Sweden the story is a little different.

In early March, the Nordic country opted to impose minimal restrictions, including the banning of public events of more than 50 people, barring visits to care homes, non-essential travel and anti-crowding rules in bars and restaurants.

The measures had a positive effect despite critics questioning Sweden’s non-authoritarian approach. But from early April, the numbers began to change, showing the country’s death toll was starting to climb.

Figures published by Our World in Data shows Sweden currently has the highest daily death rate per capita in the world. As of May 28, Sweden reported, on average, 5.50 COVID-19 deaths per million per day (on a seven-day rolling average) as outlined in the chart below.

Sweden has the highest daily death rate.

Yahoo News UK looks at what may have contributed to the countries struggles to turn the flow of fatalities.

‘Restrictions’ on restrictions

The legal framework within which the government of Sweden operates does not directly allow it to impose draconian measures, such as a widespread or nationwide shutdown.

The Swedish constitution does not allow government to impose a lockdown on citizens - except for in times of war. (AP)

This is because there is no provision in the Swedish constitution that allows the imposition of a state of emergency during peacetime crisis. There are, however, provisions to do so if there is a war. 

But on 16 April, the Swedish parliament passed a bill that granted the government decision-making powers to tackle the pandemic. The bill took effect two days later.

The government may use the powers close schools, restaurants, gymnasiums and businesses – but does not give it power to impose a nationwide curfew.

Voluntary measures ‘easier to keep in place’

While Sweden suggested many familiar rules that other nations were following – such as keeping distance from others, refraining from going to into the workplace and avoiding non essential journeys – the advice was issued by the country’s Public Health Agency, rather than by the government.

As such, Sweden’s ‘restrictions’ were more advisory than ruling, trusting that Swedes should exercise “common sense” and use “good judgment” when going about their daily lives.

But the country’s former state epidemiologist, Annika Linde, has expressed doubts about the strategy adopted by the Swedish health authority, saying: “Most likely, we would still be a bit worse off (than other Nordic countries) but better off than we are now, and we would possibly have gained time to prepare the strategy to protect the elderly.”

Barring visitors to care homes

One of Sweden’s few restrictions was a ban on visiting elderly people in care homes. However, Public Health Agency figures show that almost half of the country's fatalities linked to coronavirus happened in residential homes.

There has been no clear reason for how elderly care home deaths rose so sharply in the country, although it is believed factors could include new arrivals to the homes, residents returning from hospital, asymptomatic staff and a lack of testing early on.

But Sweden’s health minister Lena Hallengren said the responsibility lay with ‘countless actors’ – as described the tragic number of care home deaths as a “society-wide failure”.

Swedish health minister Lena Hallengren said the high number of care home deaths was a "society-wide failure". (PA)

"Nobody can say anything other than that it is a society-wide failure that the infection entered the homes of the elderly and that we had in fact not equipped elderly care to cope with this situation, given of course that no one has really been able to figure out how to prevent this from ever happening," said Hallengren.

She continued: "I can't say that the government assumes all responsibility. That would be unreasonable when there are thousands of care homes and hundreds of actors.

“The main responsibility rests with the employers to make sure that their employees have the education they need to do their jobs, that they have the equipment they need to feel safe and be safe.”

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Update: The headline of this article has been updated from: Sweden has the highest coronavirus death rate in the world – and it’s getting worse on 28 May. The article has also been changed to reflect that