Nordic countries have taken approaches vastly different from the United States’ in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic — examples the United States could learn from, according to campus experts.
UC Berkeley experts met Monday as a part of the ongoing “Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19” series to share their analysis of the pandemic responses that Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — have employed. According to campus lecturer Robert Strand, Nordic countries are a good case study for the United States and have become significantly less “small” and “homogenous” over the past five generations.
Strand added that, contrary to popular belief, Nordic countries are capitalist like the United States, just with a different variety of capitalism.
“The word ‘socialism’ often gets thrown out there in the U.S. — and I would suggest rather carelessly,” Strand said during the event. “The Nordics are capitalists, but they’ve elected to move some of their activities outside the domain of markets and instead provide them universally to all citizens.”
This difference in how the countries choose to offer services has a big impact, especially when comparing the Nordic states’ health statistics to the United States’, according to campus public health associate professor Ann Keller. The United States spends a higher amount on health care than any other country does, yet it has higher rates of chronic disease and obesity — which increase a population’s susceptibility to COVID-19 — than both Denmark and Sweden do, Keller said.
This difference between countries is compounded by the fact that access to health care is tied to jobs for many Americans, making the predicted economic recession more impactful, according to Strand.
“On a pretax and a pre-transfer basis, these policies, these societies look as unequal in terms of income as in the United States,” said Laura Tyson, a campus business and public policy professor, during the event. “What these societies do in taxation and all of these policies is they’ve made the inequality post their policies much reduced.”
According to Keller, Sweden is a particularly distinct case during the crisis, as it has not adopted shelter-in-place orders or expanded testing, instead opting to isolate older individuals and those who are chronically ill from the healthy and allow the disease to spread throughout the young, healthy population to create herd immunity.
She added that, in contrast, Denmark paused its economic activities and isolated, but the country has begun to reopen. Keller specifically noted how it resumed in-person schooling.
Keller said she thinks it is too early to determine which policy is correct and which ones have failed but added that the United States has a lot to learn from the other countries’ progress to inform future policies and methods of reopening.