MEHDI HASAN (HOST): As the death toll from COVID mounts, conservatives in America haven't just rejected the science and rejected lockdowns or social distancing or masks, they've said there's a better way, an alternative to all of this. "What about Sweden," they say. Why can't we be like the Swedes?
Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, basically their Anthony Fauci, who in policy has been more like their Scott Atlas, said in April that they could reach herd immunity in Stockholm within a matter of weeks -- the same dangerous nonsense that Dr. Atlas, until recently a top COVID advisor to Donald Trump has been preaching here in the U.S.
The Swedes, in essence, relied on self-responsibility against the coronavirus, trusting citizens to practice social distancing, to use common sense, and to self-isolate only if necessary, all without closure and all without masks, and it didn't work.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, quote, "Sweden's COVID-19 experiment is over. After a late autumn surge in infections led to rising hospitalizations and deaths, the government has abandoned its attempt -- unique among Western nations -- to combat the pandemic through voluntary measures.
Like other Europeans, Swedes are now heading into the winter facing restrictions ranging from a ban on large gatherings to curbs on alcohol sales and school closures -- all aimed at preventing the country's health system from being swamped by patients and capping what is already among the highest per capita death tolls in the world."
Look, it's been clear for a while now to some of us that Sweden wasn't any kind of COVID role model. I mentioned death per capita a moment ago. Just compare the Swedes to their own Nordic neighbors who did lock down and took a much tougher stance on preventing the spread of the virus. As of May 10, Sweden had about 31 deaths per 100,000, versus Denmark with 9 and Norway with 4. The U.S. had 24 per 100,000.
That was Bloomberg reporting seven months ago. To be fair, Tegnell, the Swedish Fauci, admitted over the summer that they had got it wrong and too many people had died. They're still dying. Take a look at the Nordic countries' death tolls over the course of 2020, from the beginning of the crisis to the current day. One country stands out. Herd immunity, which the Swedes tried and which right-wingers in the U.S. like Scott Atlas, like Senator Rand Paul and others are still so keen on, has been a complete and utter disaster.
And it didn't even benefit Sweden's economy, as some were suggesting in the outset of the crisis. The economy is much worse than even the official data suggests. As one top economist told The New York Times in October, "They literally gained nothing. ... It's a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains."
And look, I get it. For right-wingers in America, a fair-skinned blonde-head blue-eyed Nordic country seemed like a much better model than an Asian country like South Korea or Japan or Vietnam. South Korea, which didn't lock down but did do mass testing and tracing: less than 600 deaths. Japan, which didn't lock down but did do mass masking: less than 2,300 deaths. Vietnam locked down early, locked down hard: 35 deaths. Yes, just 35 total.
The Swedes are now belatedly locking down like most of their European neighbors. In France, for example, there's a second national lockdown. Bars and restaurants are closed. And Italy has banned travel between towns over Christmas.
So the answer to the plaintive right-wing question, "Why can't we be like Sweden?" is: Even Sweden doesn't want to be like Sweden anymore.