Analysing Opposite Approaches to the Pandemic: Sweden Vs. Singapore

Covid-19
Credit: NUH @ Facebook
By Julian A.

A Statistical Overview

Sweden and Singapore have been the focus points of COVID-19 for some time now. The reason for this is due to their vast differences in response to the pandemic. While Sweden has kept schools, businesses and restaurants open, Singapore has performed rigorous contact tracing. Singapore used a techno-medical approach to monitor the virus. The monitoring enabled officials to track the spread through contact tracing and quarantine.

Until early April in Singapore, most businesses were kept open. A “circuit breaker” shutdown was put in place in early April. Countless other countries also shut down due to the pandemic.

As of June 6, Sweden’s population was 10.1 million while Singapore has slightly more than half of that at 5.8 million. Sweden’s infection rate is lower than Singapore’s. As of June 7, Sweden has a total of 43,887 infected people while Singapore has a total of 37,527. While fewer people have died of COVID-19 in Singapore, Sweden’s infection rate is lower.

‘Soft Approach’ Vs. ‘Hard Approach’

Trace Together
Source: Trace Together

In January 2020, Singapore had its first case. Once the virus was confirmed, the individual was isolated and his recent contacts were traced. The Singapore government developed the app ‘Trace Together’, available for iPhone and Android. Approximately 1 million users downloaded the Trace Together app following its release.

The Trace Together app utilises Bluetooth from your device to show authorities your most recent contacts. If users test positive for the virus, the app will notify those who were near you. The message prompts those individuals to self-isolate and get tested for the virus. Some believe contact tracing is unethical as it strips citizens of their privacy. Others feel it is a necessary measure for the greater good.

Sweden COVID-19
People have lunch at a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images)

As of March, Sweden’s approach has been less intense. For example, elementary schools, restaurants and other businesses were allowed to stay open. Vulnerable groups such as elderly individuals or those with an existing health condition were advised to self-quarantine. Sweden believes this approach will limit the risk of spikes that other countries will experience once their lockdowns ease. Not many countries have paid attention to the risk of a spike after intense lockdowns. In this way, Sweden is unique; still, it has been hit by a recent surge in COVID-19 fatalities.

Also, Sweden’s method limits the collateral damage from the lockdown. By saving small businesses and preventing economic depression, their economy will be able to revive itself more easily as compared to other countries. In countries such as the United States, unemployment rates are over 14%, with over 23 million unemployed. This has created numerous other issues stemming from financial imbalance.

What Is the Best Solution for COVID-19?

Trace Together
Credit: GovTech, MOH

A pandemic of this nature has never occurred before, therefore the best method is not set in stone. There are benefits to Singapore’s method and Sweden’s method. The main goal is to save lives and prevent vulnerable demographics from contracting the virus. Singapore has seen a low death count of 25 people, as of June 7. Many believe this is because of the rigorous techno-surveillance approach. However, this approach may be less realistic for developing countries. Singapore is a high-tech country with significant infrastructure prior to this pandemic.

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A sign on a tree reads “Avoid congestion” at the popular recreational area Hellasgarden in the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden, on April 26, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

Alternatively, Swedish scientists adamantly defend the “soft” approach, citing that it will prevent a spike in cases later on. The virus was able to be contained in Sweden’s approach, without extreme measures such as contact tracing. Sweden prompted its citizens to act responsibly and implement social distancing. Most schools and restaurants were kept open for the entire pandemic. Gatherings of over 50 people were banned. While Swedish epidemiologists agree the country could have done certain things better, they stand by the decision to remain open. Epidemiologists in Sweden also noted that the deaths were mainly in long-term facilities.

Sweden believes its approach is “just right” — not too much, not too little. Sweden has decided to limit the number of restrictions placed upon their citizens. Some nationalists agree with this while others oppose it.

But there has been cause for concern. According to a June 3 article by The Guardian, “Sweden’s death rate per capita was the highest in the world over the seven days to 2 June, figures suggest. This week the government bowed to mounting opposition pressure and promised to set up a commission to look into its Covid-19 strategy”. The Swedish prime minister “told the Aftonbladet daily that the country’s overall approach ‘has been right’, but it had failed to protect care homes where half of all Sweden’s Covid-19 deaths have occurred”.

Why Is Sweden’s Infection Rate Lower Than Singapore’s?

Many are baffled as to why Sweden’s infection rate had been half of Singapore’s before their sudden spike in deaths recently. Both countries took opposite measures. For example, Sweden did not shut down like their fellow European countries, yet saw lower infection counts than the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. This has raised questions about the effectiveness of a lockdown.

Nine out of 10 people in Singapore live in urban areas. The goal of Singapore was to create herd immunity. The virus has been allowed to spread slowly while the nation shelters those who are vulnerable (elderly, sick patients). Sweden’s infection count was even lower than the United States’. Many believe the reason for this is due to successful herd immunity.

However, The Guardian reports that “[a] study last month found that only 7.3% of Stockholm’s inhabitants had developed Covid-19 antibodies by the end of April”. Also, Sweden’s neighbours have far fewer COVID-19  fatalities.

Conclusion

COVID-19
Credit: NUH @ Facebook

Each country did what they believed was best. In the case of Sweden, they appeared to be doing well with their country remaining open, but their recent spike in deaths might necessitate a policy review. In Singapore and other countries implementing a lockdown, the collateral damage is extensive. Countless small businesses are wiped out or are severely suffering.

Therefore, when looking at the solution for COVID-19, we must ask ourselves if a complete lockdown is the right strategy. At the same time, Sweden’s more relaxed policy had worked for a good period before its sudden spike in deaths. Yet even with a significantly larger population, Sweden still managed to keep their number of infected individuals roughly similar. In addition, Sweden might not endure the same economic stress as other countries. Citizens and small businesses in Sweden have remained afloat as a result of the government’s “soft” approach.

However, “the (Swedish) finance minister has warned things could get worse before they get better”, reports AFP.

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