Sweden’s anti-lockdown experiment flopped. Now it faces a wave of pandemic pain.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven declared Nov. 16 that Swedes were not following restrictions as closely as they did in the spring, so gatherings during the next four weeks would be limited to eight people. “This is the new norm for the entire society,” he said. “Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t host dinners. Cancel.” Mr. Lofven gave a nationally televised speech on Sunday reiterating that people should “call it off, cancel, postpone.”

In Sweden, people are inclined to follow crisis instructions voluntarily and the public health agency has a great deal of independence; the government had delegated the early pandemic response to Dr. Tegnell. But it appears the promised immunity was not reached. “The issue of herd immunity is difficult,” Dr. Tegnell said at a briefing in Stockholm on Nov. 24. “We see no signs of immunity in the population that are slowing down the infection right now.” Polls show that Swedish public confidence in the authorities has sagged.

Sweden probably was right to keep classrooms open. But in other respects, the experiment flopped. There are no magic wands. Until a vaccine is ready, the virus will leap from person to person in close contact, and the most effective way to stop it is to avoid that contact.

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