Many countries have criticized the Swedish government’s lax lockdown, but the deadly mistakes of defunding elder care and decentralizing public health oversight were made before anyone had heard of COVID-19.
- 0 Public Health
- 40.9 Financial
- 88 Fact-Based
Despite being known for a relatively strong public healthcare system, Sweden has been hit hard with cases; the country’s lack of stay-at-home orders and school closures, limited testing, and few gathering restrictions overshadowed its financial support, reliance on facts, and accountability with an open press.
Strong in most subcategories, a low number of hospital beds brought Sweden’s score down slightly in pre-pandemic conditions.
- Debt/GDP ratio 38.5%
- GDP/capita $55,989
- Gini coefficient (out of 100) 28.8
- Infant mortality rate (out of 1,000 live births) 2
- Healthcare access score (out of 100) 90.5
- Hospital beds/1,000 People 18.2
Government ResponseSelect a data point for more information
(Data points represent policy level as of Jan 1.)
Public Health Directives
Sweden has a very poor public health policy score, due to having no stay-at-home policy, not shutting schools, not cancelling public events, limited testing, and devoting few resources to emergency healthcare funds.
- Stay at home order 1
- Public gathering restrictions 4
- School closings 2
- Public event cancellations 2
- Testing policy 0
- Emergency healthcare investments/capita $64.26
- Travel restrictions 3
- Tests/1,000 people NO DATA
- Contact tracing 1
Sweden has a median financial response to the pandemic, with generous income support and financial stimulus undercut by a very weak debt-forbearance policy.
- Financial stimulus as share of GDP 20.9%
- Income support 2
- Debt forebearance 1
Sweden’s government is very strong in this category as it has engaged in very little misinformation, and has not limited press freedom in response to COVID-19. Its chief epidemiologist did suggest facemask usage wouldn’t slow the spread of the virus, however.
- Reliance on science/fact based information 1
- Press freedom 0
COVID-19 Status as of Jan 1
Sweden scores poorly in country status, with a very high case rate and median death rate, coupled with a worsening positivity rate.
- Total deaths 8,727
- Death rate per 100K 864.1
- Total cases 437,379
- Cases per 100K 43,308
- Percent of positive tests 12.1
- Change in positivity rates +9.9
|1||Nov 20||Ban sale of alchol in bars/restaurants after 10 pm, shut down after 10:30 pm||437.66|
|2||Nov 24||Public gatherings of 4+ people banned||468.51|
- Swedish officials caught breaking rules: Multiple Swedish leaders, including Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, have been caught violating the country's new social distancing guidelines. The violations follow weeks of government messaging encouraging the public to stay home and as distant as possible. Read More
- King Carl XVI Gustaf declares that the Swedish strategy has failed: As Sweden's death and case rates have risen dramatically in comparison to those of its Scandinavian neighbors, the king and other senior leaders have called the country's prevention strategy a failure that has caused tremendous suffering. Nationwide restrictions on in-person learning and public gatherings were implemented in early December. Read More
- Commission finds that government failed to protect elderly: An official report released mid-December found the Swedish government responsible for the pandemic's effects on the country, and specifically the high death toll among the elderly. Nearly half of COVID-19 deaths have been in care homes. Read More
- Norway and Finland stand by to provide emergency aid: Health officials in neighboring Norway and Finland offered medical assistance to Sweden, should the government request it, as intensive care beds run low, and infections rise. Read More
- Sweden considers lockdown measures: Initially praised for its relaxed approach to lockdown measures, the Swedish government is now considering restrictions as cases rise. Read More
- Vaccine for children not recommended: The Swedish government announced that it will not recommend that COVID-19 vaccines be given to those under 18, stating that the virus has "limited" transfers between children. Read More
- Despite international debate, Swedes approve of COVID-19 response: Pew Research Center polling has found that nearly three quarters of Swedes think the country has handled the pandemic well, despite at least three in ten respondents saying their lives have changed a great deal as a result of the pandemic. Read More
Compared with Other Nordic States
Per 1M 436
Norway scores just below the median, pulled down by its weak public health and financial response scores, despite a strong reliance on facts and a free press.
Per 1M 29
Iceland has a very strong score, owing heavily to its reliance on facts as well as generous debt and income support; its large improvement since January was keyed by significant improvements in public health policy and financial support.
Per 1M 561
Clear, fact-based communications, a generous stimulus package, and substantial improvements in public health policy in the past few months have been instrumental factors in Finland's strong and much-improved COVID-19 response.
Further Reading From Foreign Policy
Be the source of actionable insight.
Select one of the subscription options below to read the full Covid-19 Global Response Index. Unlock even more global intelligence with a subscription to FP Insider.
Already an FP Insider? Log In
Looking for group access? Contact us directly
Statistics and government response factors available on each country profile include:
- Debt to GDP ratio
- Infant mortality rates
- Hospital beds per 1,000 people
- Gini coefficients measuring inequality
- Health access and quality
COVID-19 Public Health Directives:
- Stay-at home orders
- School-closing policy
- Public-gathering restrictions
- Cancellation of public events
- Testing policy and rates per 1,000 people
- Emergency healthcare spending per capita
- Travel restrictions
- Contact tracing
COVID-19 Financial Response:
- Stimulus package as a share of GDP
- Income support
- Instances of misinformation by leadership
- Limitations on press freedom, censorship
Current/Historic In-Country COVID-19 Status:
- Death rates per 1 million
- Case rates per 1 million