Sweden managed to stay out of both major conflicts of the 20th Century, but now finds itself alone in a massive propaganda war. Over COVID-19.
The Nordic country has refused to resort to the sort of lockdown embraced by much (although not all) of the rest of the world. Under the design of chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, “Sweden shut only its high schools and colleges, kept its preschools, grade schools, pubs, restaurants and borders open — and put no limits on the slopes,” noted the New York Times.
And even as NPR declares the American “Restaurant Industry Faces a Sudden Collapse,” the Swedish chef remains gainfully employed,
In short, Sweden has sought to contain the virus without drastically curtailing either economic activity or civil liberties, unlike so many other countries. In Hungary, for example, a new law makes spreading “false information” about the pandemic punishable by up to five years in prison.
Meanwhile, Western opinion elites are freely indulging in Sweden-shaming. A sample of typical headlines might include:
Modelers have sought to scare Sweden into locking down with horrific predictions. Several models forecasting appalling numbers of Swedish deaths have appeared online without benefit of peer review. One that came out after the Swedish epidemic had peaked nonetheless predicted an incredible median of 96,000 deaths, with a maximum of 183,000.
At Sweden’s Lund university an academic used the parameters in the now-infamous Imperial College model of Neil Ferguson and others to warn that it meant 85,000 deaths for Sweden. An Uppsala University team also found Sweden paying a terrible price because “no full lockdown has been ordered so far.” It projected 40,000 Covid-19 deaths by May 1 and almost 100,000 by June. (Actual Swedish deaths as of May 17 were about 3,700.)
But bypass the headlines, models, and pronunciations and go directly to the data — and it looks more liker Sweden is doing just fine, thank you very much.
The Worldometer site provides specific numbers for cases per million. As of May 16, Sweden has 365; the U.K. 511; France 431; Spain 591; Italy 528, and Belgium a whopping Belgium 781. The Netherlands is just below Sweden at 332.
Yet what seems like a simple comparison may not be because of different ways of categorizing deaths, but here’s one that stands out above all. To the extent locking down “prevents” infections, it’s actually just delaying them. The original lockdown concept, forgotten once the goalposts were reached, was to keep health care systems from being overwhelmed by “flattening the curve.”“Locking down is saving time; it’s not solving anything,” says Tegnell. By not locking down and flattening, to the extent that flattening works, Sweden has in essence “front-loaded” its deaths and decreased those deaths later on. That may help explain why it has significantly more per-capita deaths than the other Scandinavian countries.
Sweden isn’t the only European country that didn’t lock down. Iceland didn’t either, and can point to a minuscule death rate/per 100,000 population of 2.83. “We have taken a middle of the road approach, rather than lockdown,” reports Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, an Icelandic subsidiary of U.S. biotech company Amgen. “Elementary schools, childcare and stores are still open, for example, but we have banned gatherings of more than 20 people and closed theatres and concert halls.”
Instead, the small island nation engaged in massive testing and actual contact tracing (as opposed to the usual tracing of friends, family members, and co-workers) followed by quarantining of infected persons.
(Don't be deceived: There’s no inherent advantage to having a small population in a tiny geographic area. The European microstates of Andorra and San Marino locked down and yet have extremely high per-capita death rates. As for any island effect, Ireland’s death rate is ten times that of Iceland's.)
For now, it is safe to say that the more dire predictions of the Swedish model’s critics have not materialized. The Swedish approach has even received praise from the unlikeliest of sources, the World Health Organization. The virus didn’t overwhelm Sweden’s public health system, and antibody testing will probably reveal a high number of people already infected who therefore won’t comprise a “second wave,” even as Sweden's economy and civil liberties were spared the ravages exacted by draconian lockdowns across much of the world.
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