The Real Sweden is Little Like the Anti-Lockdown Fantasies

The Real Sweden is Little Like the Anti-Lockdown Fantasies, by Gretchen Vogel. Socialized medicine caused much unnecessary suffering and warped the statistics.

Sweden’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic is out of step with much of the world. The government never ordered a “shutdown” and kept day care centers and primary schools open. While cities worldwide turned into ghost towns, Swedes could be seen chatting in cafés and working out at the gym. …

The famous photo of Sweden not locking down

The country did not ignore the threat entirely. Although stores and restaurants remained open, many Swedes stayed home, at rates similar to their European neighbors, surveys and mobile phone data suggest. And the government did take some strict measures in late March, including bans on gatherings of more than 50 people and on nursing home visits. …

Swedish authorities actively discouraged people from wearing face masks, which they said would spread panic, are often worn the wrong way, and can provide a false sense of safety. Some doctors who insisted on wearing a mask at work have been reprimanded or even fired.

Until last month, Sweden’s official policy stated people without obvious symptoms are very unlikely to spread the virus. So instead of being quarantined or asked to stay home, family members, colleagues, and classmates of confirmed cases had to attend school and show up for work, unless they had symptoms themselves. …

The policies … have widespread public support in Sweden, where consensus is prized and criticism of the government is rare.

Anders Tegnell, the architect of Sweden’s policy. New Zealand had Michael Baker.

Sweden leans socialist and critical speech is discouraged:

But within Sweden’s scientific and medical community, a debate about the strategy has simmered and frequently boiled over — in the opinion pages of newspapers, within university departments, and among hospital staff. A group of scientists known as “the 22” has called for tougher measures since April, when it published a blistering critique of the country’s public health authority, the Folkhälsomyndigheten (FoHM).

It says the price for Sweden’s laissez-faire approach has been too high. The country’s cumulative death rate since the beginning of the pandemic rivals that of the United States, with its shambolic response. …

The group’s criticism has not been welcomed — indeed, some of the critics say they have been pilloried or reprimanded. “It has been so, so surreal,” says Nele Brusselaers, a member of the Vetenskapsforum and a clinical epidemiologist at the prestigious Karolinska Institute (KI). It is strange, she says, to face backlash “even though we are saying just what researchers internationally are saying. It’s like it’s a different universe.” …

Swedes didn’t catch covid because some Chinese fleeing Wuhan went to Sweden, but by their own government’s mistake:

In late February, during the school holidays, thousands of families went skiing in the Alps — just as reports surfaced about an outbreak in northern Italy. Many had asked whether they should stay home, but health authorities “kept saying, ‘No, don’t cancel your trip!’” Einhorn says. “It was the middle of that week when the cases in the Italian Alps went boom.” As vacationers returned, many asked whether they should quarantine, but FoHM maintained there was no reason to worry. …

On 12 March, as new cases outpaced test capacity, FoHM announced doctors should only test those with severe symptoms … On the same day, Norway closed schools, many businesses, and its borders, mirroring measures across Europe. …

The next week, Tegnell announced Sweden would try to “flatten the curve” so the health system would not get overwhelmed with cases. The government limited gatherings to a maximum of 500 people, but day care and schools through ninth grade stayed open. (Upper secondary schools and universities went online.) People should work from home if possible, FoHM said, but tests remained very limited, and close contacts of suspected cases were not asked to stay home unless they had symptoms. …

The hospital system only avoided being overwhelmed because the government told people over 80 or too obese to go off and die, and didn’t count them as covid fatalities. Lack of testing allowed authorities to hide and fantasize.

By early April, Sweden was recording about 90 deaths from the virus daily — a significant undercount, critics say, because many died without getting tested.

Hospitals did not become as overwhelmed as those in northern Italy or New York City, but that was in part because many severely ill patients weren’t hospitalized. A 17 March directive to Stockholm area hospitals stated patients older than 80 or with a body mass index above 40 should not be admitted to intensive care, because they were less likely to recover. Most nursing homes were not equipped to administer oxygen, so many residents instead received morphine to alleviate their suffering. Newspaper reports told stories of people who died after being turned away from emergency rooms because they were deemed too young to suffer serious COVID-19 complications. …

The lack of contact tracing means there are no data about whether cases spread in schools or not. When new FoHM guidelines allowed symptomatic children to be tested in June, cases in children shot up — from fewer than 20 per week in late May to more than 100 in the second week of June. (FoHM reversed course in July and returned to recommending that children under 16 not be tested.) …

Medical critics of the policies in April, who pointed out that Sweden was doing worse than Italy and much worse than its neighbors, were roundly criticized by the establishment. No criticism was allowed.

The frontal attack violated one of Sweden’s strongest cultural norms, the taboo on open disagreement, says Andrew Ewing, an analytical chemist at the University of Gothenburg who moved to Sweden from the United States 13 years ago. …

The herd immunity fantasy:

Many of Tegnell’s critics say FoHM had an unspoken agenda: to reach herd immunity. Sweden wouldn’t be the only country to consider that strategy: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson toyed with the idea before rejecting it (and contracting COVID-19 himself). Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte explicitly said achieving herd immunity would help protect the economy before also abandoning the idea.

Herd immunity is still not well understood, but scientists estimate that in the case of COVID-19, between 40% and 70% of a population would have to be immune to arrest the spread of the virus. Many scientists say reaching that percentage without the help of a vaccine would cause far too many deaths and long-term side effects.

Tegnell has consistently denied that herd immunity is his goal … Tegnell’s thinking appears to have been shaped by his predecessor, Johan Giesecke, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at KI with whom he exchanged many emails. … Giesecke and Tegnell believed herd immunity would arrive quickly.

In the Lancet article, Giesecke claimed about 21% of residents of Stockholm county had already been infected by the end of April; Tegnell predicted 40% of them would have antibodies by the end of May. When initial studies showed the number was actually about 6% in late May, Tegnell said immunity was hard to measure.

FoHM continued to say Swedes had built up immunity, but in September it backtracked, estimating that “just under 12%” of Stockholm residents, and 6% to 8% of the Swedish population as a whole, had antibodies to the virus by mid-June.

If herd immunity is beginning to kick in, it should become visible in Sweden’s case numbers. Cases fell from a record 1698 on 24 June to about 200 per day in early September, and the percentage of positive tests reached a record low of 1.2%. Some speculate that Sweden’s summer traditions may have helped: Hundreds of thousands leave cities and towns for remote cabins in what amounts to 3 months of national social distancing.

By late June, Sweden’s political class had had enough of the theoretical BS. It drew Sweden’s policies more into line with other European countries, whose lockdowns had greatly reduced (but not eliminated) the first wave of infections.

The Swedish experiment is coming to an end, as its policies fall in line with those of its neighbors. FoHM officials are “quietly changing their approach,” Einhorn says. The country has boosted test rates; at roughly two tests per 1000 inhabitants per day, Sweden’s testing rate is almost on par with Norway’s — although it is only one-quarter of Denmark’s. The recommendation against testing children between ages 6 and 16 was lifted for a second time in September. (FoHM says this is so children with mild symptoms can return to school more quickly if their test is negative.) Children under 6 are still not tested unless severely ill.

The drop in cases allows Sweden to start to use its contact tracing system, in place for other diseases, for COVID-19, Tegnell says: “Before, we just didn’t have the capacity.” And on 1 October, FoHM announced family members of confirmed cases should stay home for 7 days, even if they don’t have any symptoms — although children through ninth grade should still go to school.

In Sweden, Anders Tegnell happened to have the government’s ear. New Zealand happened to have Michael Baker. So far Sweden has 583 deaths per million (and that figure errs on the low side), on-going infections, and moderate restrictions. New Zealand has 5 (five) deaths per million, no infections, and few internal restrictions — life is normal. Yet much of the US right lauds Sweden as the model of what to do — go figure.

What is different about Sweden, compared to all other advanced countries? Most Swedes live alone. The percentage of the population living alone is much higher in Sweden. The main transmission mechanism of covid is in the home, sharing breathing space for many hours. The Sweden fantasists always fail to mention that Sweden starts with a big headstart in the lockdown stakes.