Sweden’s Jewish community, with 9 dead, hit disproportionately hard by virus

Death rate among Swedish Jews 14 times higher than their share of the population; country implements Europe’s most lax containment policies

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

People walk down a quiet cobbled street in Stockholm, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/David Keyton)
People walk down a quiet cobbled street in Stockholm, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

JTA — Sweden’s Jewish community has lost at least nine of its members to the coronavirus, translating into a death rate among Jews that is 14 times greater than their share of the population in the country.

The fatalities, almost all of them older than 80 and many of them Holocaust survivors, account for 2.7 percent of the 333 people who have died in Sweden of the virus. Sweden has about 20,000 Jews, who account for 0.19% percent of the population.

Aron Szugalski Verständig, president of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, said the community found no immediate explanation for the disproportionate death rate among its members, whom he said contracted the virus independently of each other.

Sweden has Europe’s laxest coronavirus containment policy.

Its elementary schools are still running, though high schools shuttered several days ago. Old-age homes have been under lockdown and the government is encouraging people to observe social distancing but gyms and beauty salons, among other non-essential businesses, remain open. So are bars and restaurants, though they are restricted to table service to prevent crowding near the bar or cash register.

But Verständig said he does not believe this policy is behind any of the deaths within his community.

One victim, he said, had practiced self-isolation for the past three weeks, receiving visits only from social workers who observe strict containment and disinfection protocol.

On March 25, the United Kingdom’s Jewish community was overrepresented by a factor of 15 among the dead in that country. That figure has dropped to nine.

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