This week, Alejandro Chafuen – the Acton Institute’s Managing Director, International – reflects in Forbes about his comparisons between Sweden’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and that of other countries. Sweden has been held up as a model by those who favor less exacting responses to the coronavirus and condemned by those who advocate for more severe measures. Chafuen’s comparison and data suggest that it is too early to hand down a judgment one way or the other, and his verdict is that those who make such sweeping statements are too eager to politicize the situation. He writes:
The countries that have suffered the most coronavirus cases and deaths have very few other related things in common. I compiled the data of the countries with over four million inhabitants that have the highest number of deaths and cases per capita. With nine countries each, the Americas and Europe are evenly represented among the top twenty. When we look at number of cases per capita, the distribution is more even around the world, with almost half of the worst countries located in the Americas.
What we label “the West” has so far suffered the worst of the pandemic. Asian countries have been doing better. India is second in the world in cases and at the end – which hopefully will come next year – might overtake the United States in number of cases. With its 1.4 billion people, India’s per capita count is still not as high as those of the countries appearing in this table. China, where the virus was first reported, does not appear among the worst. It would rank among the best. As I doubt their transparency and the numbers they release, I will focus on the countries appearing in my sample.
The negative impact of Covid-19 has been felt across the spectrum in countries with quite varied reactions from leaders. Some have populist leaders, some do not. We see populists on both sides: Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico on the left, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on the right. Both are seen as populists and both govern countries that have been severely affected. What about the presence or absence of a healthcare safety net and socialized medicine? Look at European countries. Other factors such as globalization, economic freedom, or even free trade do not help either in determining which countries have best responded to the pandemic.
Sweden and the United States, for example, have very different healthcare systems, demographics, and political environments, but similar numbers of deaths per capita. Both countries ranked in the middle of the group. Sweden adopted much less stringent measures to cope with Covid-19. For those of us who tend to be biased towards freedom, Sweden started as the best case. Then, when its figures worsened, the lockdown crowd started pointing fingers at them. Now we are back with Sweden as our poster boy.
(Photo credit: Swedish Parliament. Eric Kilby. CC BY-SA 2.0.)