Sweden’s Economy Grew Last Quarter, Adding to Covid-19 Debate

(Bloomberg) -- Sweden’s economy grew in the first quarter as many other countries sank into a deep recession, adding to a debate on how best to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Sweden has opted for a softer lockdown, but its approach has resulted in a higher death rate than in many other countries. What’s more, Sweden’s government recently acknowledged that for all of 2020, the economy is likely to suffer its worst decline since World War II.

The GDP data published on Friday, which show a 0.1% expansion from the fourth quarter, provide “yet another sign that less strict containment measures eased the initial blow to the economy from the pandemic,” Bloomberg economist Johanna Jeansson said.

But, there’s little chance that “Sweden will escape a recession in 2020,” even though “it is set to be smaller than elsewhere.”

As of Thursday, Sweden had registered 4,266 deaths related to Covid-19. Though the virus has at no point overwhelmed the country’s health system, the high mortality rate has forced Swedish authorities to defend their approach to the pandemic.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, Sweden has had 41 deaths per 100,000. That compares with 31 in the U.S. and 10 in neighboring Denmark.

Swedish shops, schools, gyms and restaurants have all remained open throughout the crisis. Instead, the government has encouraged citizens to observe social distancing rules.

The country’s top epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, argues that the Swedish model is designed to cope with a long-term health crisis. Strict lockdowns aren’t sustainable when tackling a virus that may be around for years, he says.

But the policy appears to be costing more lives here and now. It’s also raised concerns in other European Union countries as they start opening borders. Cyprus recently made clear it doesn’t want Swedish residents entering the island. Sweden’s Nordic neighbors have also voiced concerns.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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