Aug 19, 2020 - World

Coronavirus helps drive Sweden death tally to highest in 151 years

People sit in a restaurant in Stockholm on May 29, 2020, amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The scene in central Stockholm in May during the pandemic. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Sweden recorded its highest death tally since 1869 in the first half of 2020 — and COVID-19 pushed the toll 10% higher than the average for the period over the past five years.

Why it matters: The figures released by government agency Statistics Sweden Wednesday showing 51,405 people died from January to June coincide with the country taking a more relaxed approach to the pandemic. Schools and businesses have remained open and the nation took a "herd immunity" approach.

The big picture: Statistics Sweden announced the findings in a statement confirming the country recorded its lowest population increase since 2005.

  • "The low population growth is the result of a substantial drop in immigration and a higher number of deaths during the coronavirus pandemic," Statistics Sweden said in a statement.

Of note: A study published in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine on Tuesday that examined infection rates in Sweden compared to other countries found it "continued persistence of higher infection and mortality ... well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland and Norway, whose rapid lockdown measures seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge."

  • Epidemiologists estimated that about 70% of the population attaining immunity "should be enough to achieve herd immunity," per the study. It was believed Sweden could hit 40% by May, but only about 15% has had the virus.

The bottom line: Per the study, "Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden's prized herd immunity is nowhere in sight."

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