Chasing a Mirage

Swedes are a remarkably compliant people. Civil disobedience as an expression of individuality is collectively frowned upon whilst strict adherence to official instructions and suggestions is celebrated as the defining component of ‘lagom’, a supposedly untranslatable word that indicates both an acceptance of rules and convention and a passionate desire to not stick out from the crowd.

Thanks to the Swedes’ adoration of all things lagom, the government in Stockholm saw no need to order a lockdown. A mere suggestion to observe a social distance sufficed. Not normally a people relishing in close bodily contact, the Swedes complied with a suspicious eagerness that seemed to confirm all stereotypes.

Hailing from afar, the corona virus did not care for any other local trait or custom. Happily going about their business as usual, and in the process becoming President Trump’s favourite socialist country, quirky Swedes took great pride in their exceptionalism.

The country’s medical authorities continue to focus on establishing herd immunity as the only viable strategy to defeat the virus, absent a vaccine. Though no other European nation seems better equipped for herding than the Swedish, collective immunity remains a distant mirage. Just in the greater Stockholm area, the number of people infected by the virus needs to multiply by a factor of ten before herd immunity becomes a possibility. The virus must, of course, not mutate and spoil the effort.

Meanwhile the death toll keeps rising. Last month, 27 percent more people died in Sweden than might have been expected based on statistical averages. In neighbouring Finland and Norway, countries not burdened by lagom, there has been no spike at all in death rates. In Denmark, excess deaths amounted to 5 percent. By comparison, the UK in April reported a 67 percent spike in the country’s death rate.

There is no reason why Sweden should suffer more than its neighbours: the country’s population is relatively healthy and boasts an exceptionally high number of single person households. Only the government’s refusal to order a lockdown sets Sweden apart. It would seem that, perhaps, the Swedes have been a little bit less compliant than anticipated, allowing the virus to rip through its society opposed only by a probably fictitious national trait.