When COVID-19 struck the world, Sweden did not close its borders. Instead, the nation opted to follow the standard health and safety guidelines. Although stores, schools and businesses remained open and people hardly wore masks, many Swedes still chose to stay at home. As of January 25, 2021, Sweden notes more than 556,000 cases and roughly 12,000 deaths. There are many reasons for Sweden’s success — lower population density, adherence to social distancing guidelines and early testing. Even with these positive factors, the death toll still darkens an otherwise phosphorescent experiment.
Poverty and COVID-19
Unsurprisingly, poverty correlates with higher COVID-19 mortality. One Swedish study claimed that low-income, low-education, unmarried and immigrant males have a higher risk of death from COVID-19. Men in the first and second tertiles of disposable income are five times as likely to die. They also experience 80% higher mortality than those in the top tertile. This holds true for immigrants from low and middle-income countries, who have a 2.5 times higher mortality among men and a 1.5 times higher mortality among women, compared to people born in Sweden. Immigrants are more than twice as likely to die than natives.
Income inequality and child poverty have increased, according to poverty expert Tove Samzelius from the Swedish branch of Save the Children. Around 10%, or 186,000 children, live in poverty in Sweden. Samzelius notes that poverty only worsens people’s living conditions. This is especially true for undocumented migrants who share hostels, resulting in cramped conditions and rapidly spreadable sickness. It is commonly stated that COVID-19 does not discriminate, but in light of this research, this is untrue. The virus does discriminate. Those most vulnerable have a lower chance of survival.
In terms of aid, Sweden has provided fiscal measures to its citizens. For example, Sweden has allotted SEK 264 million toward recovery from the impacts of COVID-19. In addition, SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, has provided SEK 1.25 billion for COVID-19 relief. SIDA also helped farmers to continue making a living since most regions rely on trade. Through the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) program Rural Poor Stimulus, SIDA has allocated SEK 30 million for this year and SEK 20 million for next year.
Other countries both admire and criticize Sweden’s approach to COVID-19. Sweden may have passed Denmark, Norway and Finland on the death toll, however, Sweden’s success is still visible in its COVID-19 mortality rate in comparison to countries like the United Kingdom, Spain and Belgium. Even with a lockdown, the elderly in care homes still suffer, experts observe. A lockdown does not in absolute terms decrease mortality from the virus, which is plain to see when comparing the U.K.’s experience with that of other European countries.
– Shelby Gruber