Sweden’s coronavirus gamble

SWEDISH CULTURE AND the country’s national psyche are often described using the word lagom, which defies simple translation, but is defined variously as “just the right amount,” “in balance,” or “moderation.” It describes generally the even-keeled ways of Scandinavia’s most populous country, but it now also extends to Sweden’s controversial approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

While virtually every country being hit by the virus has raced to institute near lockdowns of society, with the enormous disruption and economic convulsions that come with it, Sweden has followed a much more measured path.

Government authorities strongly urge social distancing, visitors to nursing homes — which have been hit hard by the virus  — are banned, and high schools and universities have closed and moved to remote learning. But younger grade schools are still in session, stores, bars and restaurants are open, and virtually no one is wearing a mask. People are encouraged to work from home if they can, but there has been no blanket shutdown of businesses.

The approach has drawn sharp criticism from some public health experts who say the country is recklessly endangering lives. But we may not be able to offer a full appraisal of Sweden’s approach for a couple of years. The broad truth offered by Soren Kierkegaard, the philosopher from neighboring Denmark, captures well the particular challenge of decision-making in the middle of a pandemic with a previously unknown virus: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

For now, it seems most in Sweden are comfortable living forward under the more modulated approach devised by public health authorities there.