Unlike its Nordic neighbours, Sweden maintained an open border in the first half of 2020 within the EU and beyond and imposed no quarantine requirements for arrivals.
Daniel V. Gordon, R. Quentin Grafton and Stein Ivar Steinshamn


To compare public health trends over 2020 in terms of per capita COVID-19 cases, fatalities, testing and the stringency of social distancing (SD) measures of Nordic countries. To generate insights into public policy successes and failures across Nordic countries.


Publicly available national and global data sources from 1 January to 31 December 2020 were used to provide time trends of cases, fatalities, testing, quarterly GDP growth and stringency of government-mandated SD measures for the Nordic countries; Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and, for comparison purposes, the large Western European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom).

First, time-trends are provided on key public health variables for the Nordic countries, and also the large Western European countries for comparative purposes, from 1 January to 31 December 2020. These time trend comparisons illustrate differences across countries in relation to per capita COVID-19 per capita cases, fatalities, testing, and also SD as measured by a publicly available Stringency Index from University of Oxford. Second, we estimate a policy response model to quantify the effects of border closures in the Nordic countries accounting for differences over time and the stringency of their SD measures. Third, we provide a comparison between the Nordic countries and also among the large Western European nations, in terms of the changes in quarterly fatalities and quarterly GDP in 2020. Further, we regress the percentage change in annual GDP from 2019 to 2020 for OECD European countries against per capita fatalities due to COVID-19.


We find: one, early imposition of full international travel restrictions appears to have reduced the growth in per capita cases (and, thus, per capita fatalities) associated with COVID-19 in Nordic countries in 2020.


We find that Sweden’s decision not to impose an air border closure in the ‘first wave’ of the pandemic in the first half of 2020, in part, explains its poor performance relative to its Nordic neighbours in terms of the growth in per capita COVID-19 cases and fatalities. Comparisons of changes in quarterly GDP for Nordic countries and large Western European nations, and a regression using data from OECD European countries of cumulative per capita COVID-19 fatalities on the percentage change in annual GDP from 2019 to 2020, also provide insights about the relationship between public health outcomes in relation to COVID-19 and national economic performance. These comparisons suggest that, in 2020, a poorer public health performance in terms of COVID-19 was associated with lower economic growth.

Full paper

First published: Sep 1, 2021
COVID Economic Policy Modelling Group
The COVID Economic Policy Modelling Group was established in early 2020 to model to explore key public policy questions in relation to COVID-19. The modelling group has: analysed Australia's first wave and the public health and economic consequences of delayed suppression; the public health outcomes of alternative (duration and stringency) of public health measures in response to Australia's second (Victorian) wave;  a statistical method to determine the true (population) infection rate for COVID-19; comparsison of the public health outcomes in Nordic countries in 2020; and the possible morbidities and mortalities associated with Phase D of the National Plan to transition Australia's response to COVID-19.