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Did Sweden Beat the Pandemic by Refusing to Lock Down? No, Its Record Is Disastrous

Michael Hiltzik wrote . . . . . . . . .

Throughout much of the pandemic, Sweden has stood out for its ostensibly successful effort to beat COVID-19 while avoiding the harsh lockdowns and social distancing rules imposed on residents of other developed nations.

Swedish residents were able to enjoy themselves at bars and restaurants, their schools remained open, and somehow their economy thrived and they remained healthy. So say their fans, especially on the anti-lockdown right.

A new study by European scientific researchers buries all those claims in the ground. Published in Nature, the study paints a devastating picture of Swedish policies and their effects.

Projected ‘natural herd-immunity’ levels are still nowhere in sight.

— Brusselaers, et al, Nature

“The Swedish response to this pandemic,” the researchers report, “was unique and characterized by a morally, ethically, and scientifically questionable laissez-faire approach.”

The lead author of the report, epidemiologist Nele Brusselaers, is associated with the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm; her collaborators are affiliated with research institutes in Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

The details of Swedish policies as described by Brusselaers and her co-authors are horrifying. The Swedish government, they report, deliberately tried to use children to spread COVID-19 and denied care to seniors and those suffering from other conditions.

The government’s goal appeared geared to produce herd immunity — a level of infection that would create a natural barrier to the pandemic’s spread without inconveniencing middle- and upper-class citizens; the government never set forth that goal publicly, but internal government emails unearthed by the Swedish press revealed that herd immunity was the strategy behind closed doors.

Explicit or not, the effort failed. “Projected ‘natural herd-immunity’ levels are still nowhere in sight,” the researchers wrote, adding that herd immunity “does not seem within reach without widespread vaccinations” and “may be unlikely” under any circumstances.

That’s a reproach to the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely criticized white paper endorsing the quest for herd immunity and co-written by Martin Kulldorf, a Sweden-born Harvard professor who has explicitly defended his native country’s policies.

The country’s treatment of the elderly and patients with comorbidities such as obesity was especially appalling.

“Many elderly people were administered morphine instead of oxygen despite available supplies, effectively ending their lives,” the researchers wrote. “Potentially life-saving treatment was withheld without medical examination, and without informing the patient or his/her family or asking permission.”

In densely populated Stockholm, triage rules stated that patients with comorbidities were not to be admitted to intensive care units, on grounds that they were “unlikely to recover,” the researchers wrote, citing Swedish health strategy documents and statistics from research studies indicating that ICU admissions were biased against older patients.

These policies were crafted by a small, insular group of government officials who not only failed to consult with experts in public health, but ridiculed expert opinion and circled the wagons to defend Anders Tegnell, the government epidemiologist who reigned as the architect of the country’s approach, against mounting criticism.

The bottom line is that Swedes suffered grievously from Tegnell’s policies. According to the authoritative Johns Hopkins pandemic tracker, while its total death rate from February 2020 through this week, 1,790 per million population, is better than that of the U.S. (2,939), Britain (2,420) and France (2,107), it’s worse than that of Germany (1,539), Canada (984) and Japan (220).

More tellingly, it’s much worse than the rate of its Nordic neighbors Denmark (961), Norway (428) and Finland (538), all of which took a tougher anti-pandemic approach.

Anti-lockdown advocates continue to laud Sweden’s approach even today, despite the hard, cold statistics documenting its failure.

The right-wing economic commentator Stephen Moore, a reliably wrong pundit on many topics, preened over Sweden’s death rate compared to other countries that imposed more stringent lockdowns: “Sweden appears to have achieved herd immunity much more swiftly and thoroughly than other nations,” Moore wrote.

Sadly, no.

According to Johns Hopkins, on Feb. 17, the day that Moore’s column appeared in the conservative Washington Examiner, Sweden’s seven-day average death rate from COVID was 5.25 per million residents.

That was better than the rate of 6.84 in the U.S., where lockdowns had been fading and had always been spotty, and in Denmark (5.65), but worse than France (3.97), Germany (2.23), Britain (2.23), Canada (2.03) and Norway (0.92).

Moore also declared, “What is clear today is that the Swedes saved their economy.”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, of which Sweden is a member, isn’t quite so sanguine.

The OECD found that in terms of pandemic-driven economic contraction, Sweden did marginally better than Europe as a whole, but markedly worse than its Nordic neighbors Denmark, Norway and Finland, “despite the adoption of softer distancing measures, especially during the first COVID wave.” COVID-19, the OECD concludes, “hit the economy hard.”

The Nature authors show that Swedish government authorities denied or downplayed scientific findings about COVID that should have guided them to more reasoned and appropriate policies.

These included scientific findings that infected but asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people could spread the virus, that it was airborne, that the virus was a greater health threat than the flu and that children were not immune.

The Swedish policymakers “denied or downgraded the fact that children could be infectious, develop severe disease, or drive the spread of the infection in the population,” the Nature authors observe. At the same time, they found, the authorities’ “internal emails indicate their aim to use children to spread the infection in society.”

So the government refused to counsel the wearing of masks or social distancing or to sponsor more testing — at least at first. One fact that tends to be glossed over by anti-lockdown advocates is that Sweden did eventually tighten its social distancing regulations and advisories, though only after the failure of its initial policies became clear.

At first, in early March when other European countries went into strict lockdowns, Sweden only banned public gatherings of 500. Within weeks, it reduced the ceiling to 50 attendees. The state allowed no distance learning in schools at first, but later permitted it for older pupils and university students.

In June 2020, Tegnell himself acknowledged on Swedish radio that the country’s death rate was too high. “There is quite obviously a potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,” he said, though he backtracked somewhat during a news conference after the radio interview aired.

And in December 2020, King Carl XVI Gustaf shocked the country by taking a public stand against the government’s approach: “I think we have failed,” he said. “We have a large number who have died and that is terrible.”

He was correct. If Sweden had Norway’s death rate, it would have suffered only 4,429 deaths from COVID during the pandemic, instead of more than 18,500.

What may be especially damaged by the experience is Sweden’s image as a liberal society. The pandemic exposed numerous fault lines within its society — notably young versus old, natives versus immigrants.

The Nature authors underscore the irony of that outcome: “There was more emphasis on the protection of the ‘Swedish image’ than on saving and protecting lives or on an evidence-based approach.”

The lesson of the Swedish experience should be heeded by its fans here in the U.S. and in other lands. Sweden sacrificed its seniors to the pandemic and used its schoolchildren as guinea pigs. Its government plied its people with lies about COVID-19 and even tried to smear its critics.

These are features of the policies of the states that have been least successful at fighting the pandemic in the U.S., such as Florida — sacrifices borne by the most vulnerable, scientific authorities ignored or disdained, lies paraded as truth. Do we really want all of America to face the same disaster?

Source : Los Angeles Times

Sweden Ends COVID-19 Testing as Pandemic Restrictions Lifted

David Keyton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Sweden has halted wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even among people showing symptoms of an infection, putting an end to the mobile city-square tent sites, drive-in swab centers and home-delivered tests that became ubiquitous during the pandemic and provided essential data for tracking its spread.

The move puts the Scandinavian nation at odds with most of Europe, but some experts say it could become the norm as costly testing yields fewer benefits with the easily transmissible but milder omicron variant and as governments begin to consider treating COVID-19 like they do other endemic illnesses.

“We have reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable.” Swedish Public Health Agency chief Karin Tegmark Wisell told the national broadcast SVT this week.

“If we were to have extensive testing adapted to everyone who has COVID-19, that would mean half a billion kronor a week (about $55 million) and 2 billion a month ($220 million),” Tegmark Wisell added.

Starting Wednesday, only health care and elderly care workers and the most vulnerable will be entitled to free PCR testing if they are symptomatic, while the rest of the population will simply be asked to stay home if they show symptoms that could be COVID-19.

Antigen tests are readily available for purchase in supermarkets and pharmacies, but those results aren’t reported to health authorities. Private health care providers can also perform tests and offer certificates for international travel, but the cost won’t be reimbursed by the state or health insurance.

High vaccination rates in Sweden are creating optimism among health officials and a late 2020 study released Tuesday showing antibodies present in 85% of samples.

Dr. Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain, said that with a substantial percentage of people vaccinated, “an informed, educated and knowledgeable population” can be trusted to isolate if they show symptoms without the need for “wholesale testing that is not going to be value for money.”

“Sweden is leading the way, and other nations will inevitably follow,” Pankhania said. “We don’t need extensive testing for the sake of testing, but we must look nevertheless in sensitive settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and other sensitive places where there are very vulnerable people.”

In 2021, the region of Stockholm alone spent the equivalent of more than $320 million on PCR tests, money the government says could be better spent elsewhere.

For most of the pandemic, Sweden stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response. It never went into lockdown or closed businesses, largely relying instead on individual responsibility to control infections. While coronavirus deaths were high compared with other Nordic countries, they were lower than many other places in Europe that did implement lockdowns.

Also Wednesday, the country scrapped as of midnight its limits on how many people may gather at events or in restaurants, vaccine certificates can no longer be required and reduced operating hours have been canceled for bars and eateries.

Announcing the reopening last week, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said that “the pandemic is not over but has entered a totally new phase,” and while infection rates have risen, it is not overly burdening hospitals.

That tracks with what’s been happening in countries across Europe recently as authorities relax coronavirus restrictions that have dominated the continent for the past two years.

Yet testing remains widespread on the continent, even for people showing no symptoms. Schoolchildren and teachers in Greece, for example, are required to test twice a week, and many countries still require a COVID-19 passport or a negative test to enter restaurants, cinemas and other indoor venues.

In Britain, instead of dropping all testing requirements, authorities are relying on testing, in addition to vaccination, to help enable people to return to normal life. Even as it relaxed most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions in late January, the government said testing remained a “vital tool” for exiting the pandemic and said infected people could end their isolation after just five days with two negative results on rapid tests over two consecutive days.

The government has also made rapid tests freely available, including via home delivery, and encouraged people to test themselves before potentially risky gatherings, hoping that knowing their status will curb COVID-19 transmission.

Some providers of private COVID-19 lab tests have seen a steep fall lately in the numbers of people seeking tests since British authorities dropped the requirement for vaccinated travelers to provide a negative test upon entering the country, starting this Friday.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signaled his intention to remove the need to isolate after a positive COVID-19 test at the end of February. People would still be advised to self-isolate.

“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions –including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive — a full month early,” he said.

“We’re seeing fewer people with COVID and so fewer people are getting tested,” said Quinton Fivelman, chief scientific officer of London Medical Laboratory, “which is obviously a good sign even though that means less demand in that market.”

As vaccination rates increase across Europe and millions recover from winter omicron infections, a similar lack of demand for testing could lead to them being phased out, rather than government policy.

Denmark said that the number of PCR tests will drop from 500,000 per day to 200,000 to “match the current stage of epidemic development,” and the Scandinavian country’s free government-funded capacity for quick tests is to set to close by March 6, while centers offering PCR tests would continue as long as needed.

“Vaccines and easy access to tests have been our Danish super-weapons throughout the epidemic,” Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said last month, adding that “this has been positively reflected in the number of (hospital) admissions and now allows us to scale down our large testing capacity.”

Source : AP

No-lockdown Sweden Toughens Up Restrictions as Coronavirus Cases Rise

Holly Ellyatt wrote . . . . . . . . .

Sweden, infamous for not imposing a lockdown during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, appears to be changing tack and implementing stricter measures as a second wave of infections takes hold and hospitalizations rise.

On Monday, it announced that public gatherings of more than eight people were no longer allowed, marking a shift in tone for the Scandinavian country that has so far largely relied on voluntary measures and guidance during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the new limit on gatherings, lowered from a previous limit of 50 people (or 300 people for some cultural or sporting events), signaling a more aggressive approach to containing the spread of infections.

“This is the new norm for the entire society,” Lofven told a news conference, Reuters reported. “Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t host dinners. Cancel.”

The ban comes in on Nov. 24 and is due to last four weeks. The prime minister’s comments mark a sharp change of tack for a country now renowned for shunning a full lockdown in spring as the coronavirus pandemic emerged with a vengeance in Europe. Instead, Sweden advised the public to practice good personal hygiene, social distancing and to work from home if possible.

Nonetheless, most schools, businesses, bars, restaurants and cafes remained open. Despite some international criticism of its approach, Sweden’s government and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell defended the strategy as striking a balance between public safety and protecting the economy.

Like the rest of Europe, however, Sweden has not been immune to a second wave of infections after an apparent lull in the spread of the virus in summer. The rise has prompted the government to sit up and notice, and last week it announced that alcohol sales in bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. would be banned from Nov. 20.

Government data shows that the number of daily confirmed cases started to rise in early October and hospitalizations began to increase several weeks later. Daily deaths reached low double-digits in early November.

On Friday, the last data available, Sweden recorded almost 6,000 new daily cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total number of confirmed infections to 177,355.

This number is far higher than its neighbors Denmark (63,847 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data), Finland (19,419 cases) and Norway, with 29,514 infections to date, although these countries have roughly half the population of Sweden’s 10 million people.

Still, the death rate per capita in Sweden is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows. Sweden’s neighbors have shown a wariness at its more laissez-faire attitude, excluding it from a post-lockdown Nordic travel area in summer when restrictions were lifted.

Source : CNBC

Sweden’s GDP Grew by 4.9 percent in Q3

Source : Trading Economics and Bloomberg

Sweden’s Service Sector is Still Below Pre-COVID Level Despite No Formal Lockdown

Source : Bloomberg