Conservative media push Sweden’s coronavirus response even as evidence suggests that it isn’t working

Some in conservative media have been championing Sweden’s relaxed approach to combating the effects of coronavirus, which includes keeping restaurants open and many schools in session. But there is little evidence showing that Sweden’s approach is effective, and in fact indicators suggest that it’s likely backfiring.

Countries across Europe have taken strict measures to reduce the movement of citizens, but Sweden has instead opted for a less restrictive, “low-scale” approach, as the country's chief epidemiologist describes it. Sweden has seemingly embraced the idea of “herd immunity,” and while high schools and universities have closed and gatherings of over 50 people are banned, younger children are still in school and bars and restaurants have remained open. Crowds continue to gather, and life continues largely uninterrupted in many parts of Sweden.

As a result, Sweden’s fatality rate from coronavirus is significantly higher than those of the neighboring countries and of the United States, at 7.68% as of April 8 compared to 1.46% in Norway, 3.85% in Denmark, and 3.21% in the U.S. Some medical experts have called out the idea of herd immunity as based on flawed science, and a group of 22 research scientists have urged the country to take stronger measures against the virus, accusing Sweden’s government of failing in its response. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has admitted that the lax approach meant that “we will have significantly more deaths,” and the country may shift toward stricter measures.

Still, some American conservative media have pushed for President Donald Trump to prematurely reopen America’s economy against the advice of medical experts, touting Sweden’s approach to the coronavirus as evidence. 

  • In an April 13 segment attacking Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Fox host Tucker Carlson said that Sweden has never “adopted the Chinese model -- the authoritarian model -- in order to contain coronavirus,” before praising Sweden’s coronavirus numbers compared to Michigan’s.

  • On April 10, Carlson said that the U.S. chose the “Chinese model -- total lockdowns, internal travel restrictions, punishment for those who step out of line” instead of the “Swedish model of targeted restrictions coupled with voluntary distancing.”

Video file

Citation From the April 10, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • On April 6 on Fox & Friends, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said that “places like Sweden ... have done a much better job with much less economic damage.” 

  • Gingrich also praised Sweden’s approach on the March 30 edition of Fox & Friends, arguing that “the result is their economy is stronger and they have fewer people infected than either Denmark or Norway.”

Video file

Citation From the March 30, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

  • On America’s News Headquarters, frequent Fox guest Jonathan Hoenig said on April 4 that we should “follow more of the Swedish model” and allow “creative businesses” to “find some way to produce, even during the pandemic.”

  • National Review shared an article titled “Has Sweden Found the Right Solution to the Coronavirus?” The article was shared widely among conservative media figures.

  • In mid-April, Fox News prime-time host Laura Ingraham tweeted praise for Sweden’s model three separate times, including sharing National Review’s article. In one tweet, Ingraham complained that “it's now obvious that our press will oppose any strategy that doesn't lead to a complete lockdown for at least the remainder of the year.”

  • Candace Owens, who has been among the most vocal right-wing media figures in denying the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, tweeted praise for Sweden’s model and mocked social distancing. 

  • Far-right, anti-Muslim British commentator Katie Hopkins -- whom Trump has promoted on Twitter multiple times -- tweeted praise for Sweden’s approach, suggesting that the nation's so-called herd immunity was now “built in.” 

  • On April 2, Carlson hosted a correspondent who spoke positively about the Swedish model; Carlson said the country’s approach means that “life is substantially more normal, more people are going about their daily lives.”

Video file

Citation From the April 2, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight