A comparison of COVID-19 epidemiological indicators in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland
Scandinavian Journal of Public Health
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Aims: To compare the early impact of COVID-19 infections and mortality from February to July 2020 across the Nordic nations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland through available public data sources and conduct a descriptive analysis of the potential factors that drove different epidemiological outcomes, with a focus on Sweden’s response. Methods: COVID-19 cases, deaths, tests, case age distribution, and the difference between 2020 all-cause mortality and the average mortality of the previous 5 years were compared across nations. Patterns in cell phone mobility data, testing strategies, and seniors’ care home deaths were also compared. Data for each nation were based on publicly available sources as of July 31, 2020. Results: Compared with its Nordic peers, Sweden had a higher incidence rate across all ages, a higher COVID-19-related death rate only partially explained by population demographics, a higher death rate in seniors’ care, and higher all-cause mortality. Sweden had approximately half as much mobility change as its Nordic neighbours until April and followed similar rates as its neighbours from April to July. Denmark led its Nordic peers in testing rates, while Sweden had the highest cumulative test-positivity rate continuously from mid-March. Conclusions: COVID-19 pushed Sweden’s health system to its capacity, exposed systemic weaknesses in the seniors’ care system, and revealed challenges with implementing effective contact tracing and testing strategies while experiencing a high case burden. Looser government restrictions at the beginning of the outbreak are likely to have played a role in the impact of COVID-19 in Sweden. In an effort to improve epidemic control, Sweden has increased testing rates, implemented more restrictive prevention measures, and increased their intensive care unit bed capacity.