Sweden’s fight against the corona virus – a model for emerging countries?

07:29 by Hubert Fromlet, Kalmar

International analysts look currently very carefully at the Swedish way of combatting the global corona virus. Criticism from abroad is mostly very loud whereas the majority of the Swedish people strongly agrees with the official soft fight against covid-19. Johan Giesecke, former Swedish chief state epidemiologist and currently very active promotor of the soft Swedish way to combat covid-19, feels convinced that the lax Swedish model will turn out be superior to the more restrictive approaches in the rest of the world. Being harsh now only delays future infection problems, even in so far successful New Zealand, according to professor Giesecke.

But also the official Sweden obviously shares – more or less – Giesecke’s view. It seems, however, be forgotten or neglected that the corona virus is a new phenomenon also for experienced virologists. There is still no certainty about anything – and particularly not about the optimal strategy for fighting the new global virus.

Emerging countries are affected by covid-19 as well – but the Swedish way of combatting the virus is no option

Even in Sweden we have no idea about the real volume of infected people. Certain experts believe that about 500 000-600 000 people already have been infected by the virus alone in Greater Stockholm which could be a multiplier of around 50 compared to the official number. This little calculation of mine clarifies two points. First, one may feel even more convinced that applicable official knowledge about corona by definition remains extremely low. Second, more should be done about Swedish corona statistics. The number of tested persons was – and still is – simply too small. Some change may now be going on.

This little example from Sweden underlines well the hard work that is necessary to organize and analyze the fight against covid-19. When regarding this fact, it is certainly most natural that these difficulties are much more challenging in poor and emerging countries, even in the more advanced ones. For this reason, the Swedish way of combining limited restrictions with quite liberal mobility applications certainly should be ruled out by emerging markets and particularly by less advanced developing countries.

This is my own conclusion despite the fact that I am not a virologist. But I have experience from analyzing the efficiency of institutions outside the advanced OECD area. Institutional shortcomings are common in poor and less developed countries and should be reduced as soon and as much as possible to make the fight against cobid-19 work better. Read more about this in the next chapter. By the way, also advanced countries failed initially quite a lot in their battle against the corona virus.

Urgent priorities: health care, organization, communication and instructions – areas where developed countries could help

Many emerging and developing countries have already now substantial problems with the corona virus. Some simple statistical results and calculations below mean at least some confirmation of that conclusion.

It has already been mentioned above how difficult it is to guesstimate the multiplier of anonymously infected people for the case of Stockholm. Considering this fact, it is indeed understandable that less developed countries will have even more complications to come to a roughly applicable statistical guesstimate. However, some lessons can be taken from the initial mistakes in China and most OECD countries.

Numbers for registered infection cases in the 10 most affected countries                     (per 1 million people, average)

EU countries                         3300

South America                        700

Asia (Iran excl)                        115

Africa (South of the Sahara)      85

Källa: Worldometers, own calculations

The numbers above should not be used as accurate measurements. They just reflect two issues: the current proportions of registered infections between the EU and three continents and – derived from these continental numbers – future risks of explosive developments. Challenges seem to be particularly large in Africa, parts of Asia but also in some Latin American countries like Brazil and Mexico. For India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, the officially noted average infection number per 1million is only 50 as regards the first two mentioned countries and 95 for Bangladesh – three countries that cover at the same time almost one fifth of global population.

To be re-considered in times of corona: The composition of foreign aid

Altogether, there is no doubt that emerging and lagging developing countries do need all thinkable support from the developed world – now! Sure, politicians see the corona pandemic mostly in national terms. This approach is natural and also understandable. However, advanced countries should not forget that corona is an extreme global issue. They therefore should give countries with weak health systems and other insufficiently working institutions all possible financial resources and educational help to meet future corona challenges.

Maybe, some part of the existing and hopefully extended foreign aid from Western governments or the EU could be directed to more direct flows of financial and human resources to help affected poor and less effective countries in their fight against the corona virus.

Again: There are no borders for the corona virus. This challenge is totally global. Widely spread support from all over the world to lagging countries should be regarded as a commitment! Also for Sweden – but certainly not by exporting its model for fighting the virus.

Conclusion: Sweden could be a driver for corona-adapted foreign (financial) aid to less favored countries – not to forget corona education and institutionally improved health care. However, flock infection – not even the light Swedish version – should not be regarded as an option for less advanced countries in their fight against covid-19. This would mean too many corona victims already in the first phase of accelerating infections.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board


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