Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: December 16 Update

Italy’s mortality rate is rising again. France and Britain have stopped declining and are now plateauing. Sweden and Germany are trending upward nearly vertically. Canada and Mexico are steadily rising. And the US recorded 3,656 deaths on Wednesday.

On a related subject, here’s a chart comparing the COVID-19 mortality rate in the Nordic countries to a few large European countries:

Whenever I read about the “Swedish experiment,” Sweden is compared to the other Nordic countries. But is that right? Or should it be compared to other European countries in general? After all, “Nordic countries” is just an arbitrary grouping, and it’s not as if there’s something about their geography that’s much different from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. On the other hand, Sweden is culturally similar to Denmark and Norway and has similar social services. So I’m not sure what the right comparison is.

In any case, what we see here is that Sweden was in sync with the rest of the Nordic countries until the first week of November. Then, for some reason, both Sweden and Germany took off. This is despite the fact that Sweden has famously lax shutdown rules while Germany has famously strict shutdown rules. Meanwhile, Denmark, Norway, and Finland have remained pretty low for now—although Denmark’s case rate started skyrocketing a couple of weeks ago.

All this is to say that whenever I think we’ve finally figured out if the Swedish model is “working,” it turns out that maybe we haven’t figured it out after all. Maybe Sweden will suddenly turn down next week. Maybe the rest of Scandinavia will start skyrocketing in a few weeks. Who knows? This is why even though Sweden looks horrible right now, I still think we should withhold judgment until spring.

And if the other Nordic countries stay low? Then we should all be asking what they did right. Germany gets all the attention for its disciplined approach to the pandemic, but right now they look like slackers compared to Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Even Canada doesn’t come close. What’s their secret?

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through December 16. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

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