In the end, the Swedes really did have the last laugh with a relaxed Covid approach

They never give up. The finger waggers who know what is good for the rest of us; the epidemiologists trying to intimidate us with their seemingly terrifying but actually rather trivial models of applied mathematics. The vested interests in the NHS creating excuses for the inefficiencies inherent in the system.

If we already have restrictive measures, we need more. If we don’t have them, we need to be introducing them right now, or preferably yesterday.

Like a stopped clock, their admonishments and predictions are occasionally correct. But for the most part, they are not.  

Fortunately, Sajid Javid is the Health Secretary and not Matt Hancock. Javid has the intellectual confidence to point out that while the experts can always offer him advice, he is also always free to reject it. This is exactly as it should be and ministers, democratically elected, should not be pushed around.

Still, it is worthwhile confronting their arguments, even though there is a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

As I have argued in these columns almost since the pandemic began, Sweden is an excellent counterexample to those who want us to be masked up and locked down almost as soon as daily Covid cases show any signs of increasing.

Unlike most of the projections from the epidemiological models, this has proved to be a successful prediction. Sweden continues to perform well.

Swedes have been able to go about their daily lives in a normal manner throughout the pandemic. These have been some restrictions, but these have been minor.

Sweden has only just over 10 million people, compared to the 67 million in the UK. But in both countries, the vast majority live in cities. Indeed, a slightly higher percentage of Swedes live in urban areas than we do. So the potential for the virus to spread in densely populated towns and cities is just the same.

In Britain, we have seen 139,000 Covid deaths. When you adjust the Swedish numbers to account for different population sizes, their equivalent number was 96,000 – two thirds the level of the UK.

In the past week, daily deaths in the UK have averaged well over 100. In Sweden, there have been less than 10.

We might usefully consider what we might have done if the miraculous vaccines had not been invented.

In 2020 we lived under a mixture of freedom and partial or total lockdowns. The size of the economy shrank by nearly 10 per cent.

The cost of the furlough scheme between March 2020 and September 2021 was £69bn. It would simply not have been possible to continue with these measures.  

The economy would never have recovered. The furlough scheme could not have gone on without threatening the financial stability of the British state. Eventually, millions of jobs would have been lost.

The education of both school and university students would have continued to suffer major disruption and damage.

Sooner or later, we would have had to abandon lockdowns. We would simply have been forced to learn to live with the virus one way or another.

Just like the Swedes. And they seem to have come out of it rather well.

As published in City AM Wednesday 27th October 2021
Paul Ormerod
Image: Flickr

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.