Torsten Persson. Photo: Mikael Sjöberg
Torsten Persson. Photo: Mikael Sjöberg

Over the past year or so, IIES Professor Torsten Persson, has left much of his regular research on the back burner to focus on a different assignment – that of his work for the Swedish Corona Commission, appointed by the Swedish government and Riksdag, to evaluate how the COVID-19 pandemic struck Sweden and how well the government, administrative authorities, regions and municipalities managed to limit the spread of the virus and its effects. On 25 February, the Commission submitted its final report to the Swedish Minister for Social Affairs, Lena Hallengren, and presented it to the public.

To be able to carry out its mission, the Commission deemed that new knowledge was needed in several areas. This was the starting point for the program “A research program on COVID-19 in Sweden – Infectivity, control and effects on individuals and society” which is led by Torsten, together with three other researchers at Stockholm University: Adam Altmejd (SOFI), Evelina Björkegren (Department of Economics), and Olof Östergren (Department of Public Health Sciences). More than 30 researchers from different fields and universities participate in the program’s various research projects.

Two broad issues of the research

The program is based on two broad issues. One is to study the consequences of COVID-19 in Sweden – as well as the infection control measures the authorities put in place to deal with the outbreak. What were the consequences for public health, for example in the form of mortality and mental and somatic health? The second issue concerns the societal consequences of the pandemic as well as of the measures for infection control and to mitigate the harmful effects on society. What were the social and economic repercussions, for example on jobs, income and inequality? A couple of examples of research that is already underway based on these data are how school results are related to the pandemic and school closures and how different groups of Swedish companies and households have been affected by the Corona crisis.

Torsten is grateful for the generous support provided by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, which will make it easier for researchers who want to study various aspects of the pandemic and its management. 
- This grant and the data that will become available is unique both nationally and internationally. We will fill a void in the research landscape regarding “broad” data. These register data will be able to be used for research on COVID-19 by both social and medical scientists, says Torsten.

Research on the consequences of pandemics

According to Torsten, it is important to investigate how vulnerable groups are affected in order to get a more complete picture of how the pandemic has affected society. The studies of inequality apply not only to direct effects in the form of illness or death, but also indirect effects. This may involve displaced care as well as consequences for jobs and income. Another area – where the infrastructure of data should be expanded – concerns how vaccinations work. Studies are also planned on which companies were able to restructure their operations and how this was related to the various company subsidies. The new infrastructure will also be useful for investigating whether the pandemic leaves long-term traces. This may include, for example, a different entry into the labor market for young people or the long-term deterioration of the health of certain groups. 

What do you hope to achieve within the framework of this grant?

- The register data that becomes available can generate very concrete and socially relevant research. The results will help us better understand what happened in Sweden during the pandemic – and based on that we can learn lessons for future pandemics, says Torsten.

Click here to read a more extensive text, in Swedish, about the grant and the program.