Unlike other countries, it has so far avoided both isolation and economic ruin.
IF the COVID-19 pandemic ends in a few weeks, months before the alarmists claim it, they will probably pivot immediately and pat themselves on the back for the brilliant social distancing controls they have imposed on the world. They will claim that their heroic recommendations have avoided total calamity. Unfortunately, they will be wrong; and Sweden, which has practically taken no compulsory social distance, will probably prove the opposite to them.
Many are rushing to discredit the approach to Sweden, which relies more on calibrated precautions and isolating only the most vulnerable than on imposing a complete lockdown. While gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and high schools and colleges are closed, Sweden has kept its borders open as well as its kindergartens, primary schools, bars, restaurants, parks and shops.
President Trump has no use for Sweden’s nuanced approach. Last Wednesday, he coated it dramatically saying that he heard that Sweden “gave him a shot, and they saw some really scary things, and they immediately decided to close the country ”. He and the public health experts who told him it was wrong on both counts and had better question their approach. Johan Giesecke, a former chief epidemiologist in Sweden and now an adviser to the Swedish Health Agency, says that other countries “have taken political and reckless measures” that are not supported by the facts.
In the rush to foreclose on nations and, consequently, the crater of their economies, no one has addressed this simple but critical question: how do we know that social isolation controls really work? And even if they work for certain infectious epidemics, do they work for COVID-19? And even if they work for this new coronavirus, should they be implemented at some point during the epidemic? Or do they lock the barn door after the horses have been gone for a long time?
In theory, less physical interaction could slow the rate of new infections. But without a good understanding of the lifespan of COVID-19 viral particles in air, water and on contact surfaces, even this is speculative. Without reliable information on the proportion of the population that has already been exposed and has successfully combated the coronavirus, one must question the value of social isolation controls. Perhaps the quickest and safest way to “flatten the curve” is to allow young people to mix normally while requiring that only the frail and sick remain isolated.
In fact, this is the first time that we have quarantined healthy people rather than quarantining the sick and the vulnerable. As Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels, wrote in The spectator (UK) last week: “The lockdown theory, after all, is fairly niche, deeply non-liberal – and, so far, untested. It is not Sweden that is conducting a mass experiment. It’s everyone. “
We asked these simple questions to many doctors, epidemiologists, mathematical modellers of infectious diseases, and other intelligent and well-trained professionals. It turns out that, although you need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict and rob a person of theft, you don’t need any real evidence (let alone evidence) to put millions. of people in a very invasive and heavy confinement. with no end in sight and nothing preventing the lock-in from reimposing at the whim of public health officials. Is it rational?
When asked what evidence was available to support the usefulness of quarantine and social isolation, academics point out the Diamond princess cruise ship, with 700 COVID-19 passengers and eight fatalities. But the ship is an artificially designed and densely packed human container that hardly resembles living conditions in most countries.
Other major evidence that academics often cite is the course of the 1918 swine flu, which swept the globe 102 years ago and was not a coronavirus. Philidelphia did not practice social distancing during the 1918 pandemic, but St. Louis did and had a lower death rate than that of Philadelphia. But how is this relevant to the current crisis? Separated from post hoc, ergo propter hoc the nature of the argument, a key difference was that GIs returning from First World War Europe carrying the swine flu virus could not fly nonstop from Paris to St. Louis. They had to land in East Coast ports such as Philadelphia. It is therefore not surprising that sick GIs rested and recovered during the spread of the virus on the East Coast, and they improved before continuing on to St. Louis and other inland cities.
Basing the whole architecture of social distancing on the evidence of the 1918 swine flu makes no sense, especially when that architecture causes significant destruction to the lives and livelihoods of most of the American population.
But supporters of social isolation are frantically grabbing the straws to support the closure of the world. It bothers them that there is a country in the world that has not closed its doors and has not socially isolated its people. This bothers them because when this coronavirus epidemic is over, they would probably like to conclude that social isolation has worked.
Sweden has courageously decided not to approve severe quarantine and, therefore, has not forced its residents to take themselves into custody. “The strategy in Sweden is to focus on social distancing among known risk groups, such as the elderly. We are trying to use evidence-based measures, “Emma Frans, an epidemiology doctor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, told Euronews. “We try to adjust everyday life. The Swedish plan is to implement measures that you can practice for a long time. “
The blockage problem is that “you tire the system,” said Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist. Guardian. “You cannot maintain a lockdown for months – it is impossible. “He said to Britain Daily Mail: “We cannot kill all of our services. And the unemployed are a big threat to public health. This is a factor you have to think about. “
If social isolation worked, Sweden, a Nordic country of 10.1 million people, would not see the number of COVID-19 cases soaring by tens of thousands, exceeding the figures in Italy or New York? To date, 401 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Sweden.
The good news is that in the Swedish intensive care census, which is updated every 30 minutes nationwide, admissions to all intensive care units in the country have been stable or declining for the last 10 years. week. At the time of this writing (based on currently available data), most cases of intensive care in Sweden today are elderly, and 77% have underlying conditions such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, kidney disease and diabetes. In addition, there have been no cases or deaths in pediatric ICUs in Sweden – so much for the benefits of closing schools everywhere else. There are only 25 COVID-19 intensive care admissions among all Swedes under the age of 30.
Sweden is developing collective immunity by refusing to panic. By not requiring social isolation, young Swedish people spread the virus, mostly asymptomatically, as is supposed to happen during a normal flu season. They will generate protective antibodies that will make it increasingly difficult for the Wuhan virus to reach and infect frail and elderly people who have serious underlying conditions. As a perspective, the current death rate from COVID-19 in Sweden (40 deaths per million people) is significantly lower than the Swedish death rate during normal flu (in 2018, for example, around 80 per million people ‘inhabitants).
Compare that to the situation in Switzerland, a similar small European country with a population of 8.5 million. Switzerland practices strict social isolation. However, Switzerland reports 715 cumulative deaths from the Wuhan virus to date, for a mortality rate almost double that of Sweden. What about Norway, another Nordic country that shares an open border of 1,000 miles with Sweden, with a language and culture very similar to Sweden? Norway (5.4 million people) has fewer deaths reported by COVID-19 (71) than Sweden, but a significantly higher rate of coronavirus admissions to intensive care.
One of us spoke to Ulf Persson in his office at the Swedish Institute for Health Economics on Friday. He said that everyone he knew was calm and stable, behaving more cautiously than normal, following social controls imposed by the government as a limit of 50 people for rallies and only services seated in bars and restaurants. Persson estimates that the Swedish economy will fall by around 4% due to global economic closings. But that’s nothing compared to the 32% Great Depression unemployment rates the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board recently predicted for the United States.
Nature has that one, friends. We have been managing new viruses for untold generations. The best way is to allow young people and healthy people – those for whom the virus is rarely fatal – to develop antibodies and collective immunity to protect fragile and sick people. Over time, it will become clearer that social isolation measures like those in Switzerland and Norway do very little to reduce death or illness, although they do generate local and national economies – increasing the misery, pain, death and sickness from other causes because people’s lives are turned upside down and the future is destroyed.
John Fund is a columnist for National review and reported frequently in Sweden. Joel Hay is a professor in the Department of Economics and Pharmaceutical Policy at the University of Southern California. The author of over 600 peer-reviewed scientific articles and reports, he has worked with the Swedish Institute for Health Economics for almost 40 years.