Why Sweden Has Already Won The Debate On COVID-19 “Lockdown” Policy
by Patrick Henningson
As Europe and North America continue suffering their steady economic and social decline as a direct result of imposing “lockdown” on their populations, other countries have taken a different approach to dealing with the coronavirus threat. You wouldn’t know it by listening to western politicians or mainstream media stenographers, there are also non-lockdown countries. They are led by Sweden, Iceland, Belarus, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Surprisingly to some, their results have been as good or better than the lockdown countries, but without having to endure the socio-economic chaos we are now witnessing across the world. For this reason alone, Sweden and others like them, have already won the policy debate, as well as the scientific one too.
Unlike much of the rest of the world who saw fit to unquestioningly follow China’s lead on everything from quarantining, to economic shutdowns, to contact tracing, and PCR mass testing, nonlockdown countries have instead opted for a somewhat lighter touch – preserving their economies and societies, and in doing so avoiding an endless daisy chain of new problems and obstacles deriving directly from the imposition of brutal lockdown policy.
On the European front, the Scandinavian country of Sweden is now garnering more attention than before, and has become an object of both criticism and fascination for those against or in favor of lockdown policy. While countries like the United States and Great Britain continue to top the global tables in terms of COVID-19 death tolls, Sweden has only suffered marginal casualties in comparison, while avoiding the intense strain on society and loss in public confidence which lockdown governments are now grappling with as they continue to push their populations to the limits of social stress and economic tolerance. You could say those governments are already careening over the edge by looking at the latest jobless figures coming out the US with 30 million new people filing for unemployment in the last few weeks.
Unlike many others, Sweden has not enforced any strict mass quarantine measures to contain COVID-19, nor has it closed any of its borders. Rather, Swedish health authorities have issued a series of guidelines for social distancing and other common sense measures covering areas like hygiene, travel, public gatherings, and protecting the elderly and immune compromised. They have kept all preschools, primary and secondary schools open, while closing college and universities who are now doing their work and lectures online. Likewise, many bars and restaurants have remained open, and shoppers do not have to perform the bizarre ritual of queuing around the block standing 2 meters apart in order to buy groceries.
According to the country’s top scientists, they are now well underway to achieving natural herd immunity. It seems this particular Nordic model has already won the debate.
Because Sweden decided to follow real epidemiological science and pursue a common sense strategy of herd immunity, it doesn’t need to “flatten of the curve” because its strategic approach has the added benefit of achieving a much more gradual and wider spread.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s government advisor for epidemiology explains, “We are all trying to keep the spread of this disease as low as possible, mainly to prevent our healthcare system from being overstretched, but we have not gone for the complete lockdown. We have managed to keep the number of cases low enough so the intensive care units have kept working and there has always been 20 per cent beds empty and enough protective equipment, even in Stockholm, where there has been a huge stress on healthcare. So in that way the strategy has worked.”
Similarly, it doesn’t have the deal with the newest “crisis” obstacle which lockdown states seem to be using as an excuse not to reopen society and the economy, which the fear of a “second peak” which governments are telling the public will wreak havoc on the nation by “infecting the vulnerable” and will “overwhelm the health services” if everything is suddenly reopened and social isolation and distancing is relaxed.
This catch-22 which countries like the US and UK are caught in is predicated on the belief that the coronavirus might suddenly unleash itself again on the populace. Certainly, there could be a second surge, but it should be noted that this is also a direct result of the decision to impose lockdown in the first place. According to top epidemiologist Dr Knut Wikkowski, the decision to lockdown only delayed the inevitable for countries like the US and UK, and quite possibly made the COVID-19 problem even worse than it would have previously been in the short to midterm, but in the long-term the results would be relatively the same proportionally in term of human casualties.
The penny should have really dropped after it was revealed two weeks ago by Oxford Professor Carl Heneghan, Director for Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, that the peak of the UK’s coronavirus “crisis” actually came a full week before Boris Johnson initiated lockdown on March 23rd.
In fact, if you plug in Sweden’s actual data into Neil Ferguson’s own infamous computer model which sent the UK government into mass-panic mode, here’s what you would get:
The numbers don’t lie, but statistics can be made to tell any story the narrator wants, especially when the storyteller is government. Just look at the last 50 years of announcements regarding unemployment and inflation levels. One thing we should have learned by now is that government will never let things like facts and real science get in the way of a slow motion train wreck in progress, hence you can see some UK officials still clinging to Ferguson’s initial prediction as some sort of “proof” that the lockdown was necessary to avoid “mass death.”
Outside of popular supposition and media talking points, there is no scientific study which shows that lockdown saved any significant number of lives. Instead, new data strongly suggests quite the opposite.
The Ribbing of Sweden
As western lockdown countries drift further and further into an economic and social purgatory, non-lockdown countries like Sweden seem to be the target of bad-natured criticism by western media punditry. This seems to be out of spite more than anything, as some journalists are sensing defeat after they had thrown their lot in with draconian lockdown policy early on, unquestioningly backing their governments’ one-size-fits-all approach to emergency management, once again invoking the TINA (There Is No Alternative) principle which history shows often precedes most man-made calamities from World War I, the Iraq War in 2003, to the 2008 Wall Street Bail Out.
Nonetheless, the media and political pressure has been almost relentless on Sweden for not complying with the west’s “lockdown consensus.”
The country has also been roundly criticized by some 2,300 academics who piled on scorn upon it in a letter posted in March demanding the government change course and immediately head for lockdown.
However, the country has held off, and has since won endorsements from a number of eminent academics and professionals, like Professor Heneghan who hailed Sweden for “holding its nerve,” in the face of such public condemnation. That steadfastness seems to finally be paying dividends now, as some western mainstream media outlets, and even the UN itself, are acknowledging their comparable success. The New York Post begrudgingly acknowledged that Sweden received praise from the high chair of global public health at the World Health Organization (WHO), now lauded it as a “model” for overcoming the coronavirus crisis.
Dr. Micheal Ryan, WHO head of emergency management said, “What it has done differently is it has very much relied on its relationship with its citizenry and the ability and willingness of its citizens to implement self-distancing and self-regulate.”
He added, “In that sense, they have implemented public policy through that partnership with the population …. I think if we are to reach a new normal, Sweden represents a model if we wish to get back to a society in which we don’t have lockdowns.”
So according to WHO, it is Sweden which could be the new normal – and not the reactionary medieval quarantine policies favored by other states. Is WHO really making an argument against obsessive social isolation, and collective economic suicide? Such words from WHO should, in theory, be reassuring to those stuck in their lockdown death spirals. But many in the west are still convinced of the TINA principle, even if their next door neighbor has chosen a short and more practical route through the eye of the storm.
More than anything, this conundrum speaks to the relationship between people and their governments. Indeed, it is the social contract between government and its citizens which forms the core of the country’s policy formation. The idea that the choice of lockdown policy is a straight trade-off between lives and economy is a false dichotomy which ignores many concomitant variables and factors which are at play.
“I don’t think it was in terms of economy versus a health of people. I think it was a broader concern about the social fabric in general,” said Lars Trägårdh, professor of history and civil society studies at Ersta Sköndal University College.
“It is wonderful that we have retained the amount of freedoms that we have here ….Who would have thought, you know, that Swedish social democracy would be in bed with American right-wing libertarians? Not me,” remarked Trägårdh.
Professor Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute explained why the state was duty-bound to take the direction it did. “We must establish control over the situation, we cannot head into a situation where we get complete chaos. No one has tried this route, so why should we test it first in Sweden, without informed consent?” said Soderberg-Naucler.
This concept of people talking responsibility for their actions and for public well-being is actually enshrined in Sweden’s constitution. This means that the state does not have to threaten and abuse its citizens for things like not observing social distancing and buying ‘non essential items’ when out shopping, or meeting in small groups – as some governments are doing. Swedes know the risks and observe government guidelines accordingly. They also acknowledge that humans are not perfect and won’t use police and courts to punish citizens if they are not following guidelines to the letter – as is the case in many lockdown countries. In lockdown countries, the bad blood between the public and government will not evaporate after the ‘crisis’ is over, which is a real problem which lockdown governments will continue facing in the future.
Still, New York Post had to include the caveat that Sweden was something of a pariah state for “controversially refused restrictions.” The propaganda war could be seen in the paper’s subtle wordsmithing, where editors even went so far as to change their headline from “WHO lauds Sweden as ‘model’ in coronavirus fight for resisting lockdown,” to a slightly more incendiary “WHO lauds lockdown-ignoring Sweden as a ‘model’ for countries going forward”
How to change a headline so that something unambiguous becomes ambiguous. So that solid approval for Sweden’s approach becomes unclear.
Language is a weapon & your only defence is always to ask, ‘what position are these words suggesting I take, & does the evidence support that?’ pic.twitter.com/VriygnIph9
— Nelly Tells (@NellyTells) April 30, 2020
Swedish critics are quick to point out how poorly it’s doing compared to its Scandinavian neighbors, Denmark, Norway and Finland. They do this by pointing to the new global bible of public policy – the World-o-Meter coronavirus running totals – which for some people is now the end all and be all which it comes to declaring how really, really bad things are, and will continue to be (because that meter just keeps on running).
As of today, Sweden, which has a population of roughly 10.5 million, has recorded 21,092 cases and 2,586 fatalities from COVID-19, that’s roughly 256 deaths per million people.
By contrast, its southern neighbor Denmark which has a population of 5.8 million has recorded 9,1058 cases and 452 fatalities, roughly 78 deaths per million persons. Norway is similar population at 5.4 million, and has recorded 7,738 cases and 210 deaths, that’s 39 deaths per million. Finland has a population of 5.5 million confirmed just 4,995 cases and 211 deaths, with 38 deaths per million.
Critics of Sweden have all seized upon these differences in order to condemn their government for being “irresponsible” and “playing Russian roulette” with their citizens’ lives. If one didn’t know better from all the hysterical rhetoric, you’d think there was an impending genocide happening there. While these sort of polemic arguments seem to work in the narrow band of reality that are social media threads, the reality is that after scaling up its neighbors’ results to be in line with Sweden’s larger population which is roughly twice their size, the difference is statistically insignificant for a country of 10.5 million. They are basically arguing that when comparing Sweden to its neighbor Denmark, that a proportional difference of approximately 1,500 fatalities warrants Sweden closing all its schools and shutting down its entire economy and suffer all the chaos ill effects that goes with that course of action.
To put things in even more perspective, while Sweden has already suffered 2,586 COVID deaths in 2020, back in 2018 there were approximately 6,997 total respiratory disease deaths in Sweden – and the country’s healthcare capacity was not overrun, nor were any of their public systems stretched to breaking point.
It’s a ridiculous argument on its face, and yet, this is the line of thinking which seems to permeate through lockdown countries desperate to justify their own fatal policy decision.
It’s not a discussion for faint hearts, but this has been a reality for nations since time immemorial who have faced war, plagues and pandemics. There is no perfect answer, but there are practical answers that take utilitarianism into account.
Fear of the ‘Second Wave’
In what can only be described as a macabre display of bad faith, exasperated naysayers from lockdown countries seem to almost eager to see Sweden fall victim to the dreaded “second wave” which many Britons and Americans insist is a fait accompli, as their political leaders and science “experts” keep telling them. The threat of a “second wave” is certainly being used by some governments to justify an increasingly unpopular lockdown policy, but also lends itself to the preferences of Bill Gates who has been publicly advocating an open-ended lockdown arrangement until such a time that salvation will arrive in the form of a vaccine for the coronavirus. But even the most optimistic scenario would be somewhere between 18 months and two years, which begs the question of whether democracies and their economies can survive such an extended period of tumult. That’s a scenario which no one can realistically endorse, and yet it’s given prime time by mainstream media outlets who have been keen of offer-up the Gates plan as another TINA solution to the “pandemic.” Besides the obvious civilizational problems with the Gates global lock-up plan, it chronically ignores the fact that there are non-lockdown countries like Sweden who never opted into the west’s collective self-destruction pact.
Not everyone is on board with the inevitability of a “second wave” which the American and British government keeps insisting is coming if lockdown is lifted too early. Renowned Scottish microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington is not convinced, saying that such a second peak is unlikely. “No, I’m not sure where this ‘second peak’ idea comes from,” says Pennington.
Still, Prof. Pennington seemed miffed as to where Boris Johnson’s government is getting its science from. “I know where it comes from, it comes from flu. Because when we have a flu pandemic we always get a second peak, and sometimes we get a third peak …. Now, why we should get one with this virus, I don’t quite understand …. It just seems to be a phenomenon with flu, and I don’t see any reason myself, and I haven’t seen any evidence to support the idea that there would be a second peak of the virus.”
According to other experts, one of the fundamental problem with lockdown policy favored by the US, UK other European countries, is that it was never evidence-based, or “guided by the science.” Quite the opposite in fact. Rather, it was a political decision, undertaken by politicians. Never in history has a country enacted such a universal measure which quarantines the healthy as well as the sick and infirmed. This also flies in the face of hundreds of years of epidemiological science and epidemic policy, and eschews the entire concept of natural herd immunity.
Again, the pragmatic approach would have been to protect those most directly effected by COVID-19 which is overwhelmingly the elderly and those in palliative care – a policy which would eventually bring a population herd immunity as a natural by-product of that policy. That’s been the approach taken by Sweden and other states, and according to numerous experts in the field, it makes sense on both an epidemiological level and well as a social and economic level.
In a recent interview with Radio 5, leading Swedish epidemiologist, Dr. Johan Gieseck, remarked how the UK had initially proposed the same plan as Sweden, but then Boris Johnson came under intense pressure from the media and opposition after the arrival of Imperial College’s notorious “500,000 dead” paper presented to the government by Prof. Neil Ferguson. As a result, UK officials quickly changed course in a “180 degree U-turn,” said Gieseck, who was shocked how an unpublished paper relying on computer models and with no peer review – could have played such a crucial role in altering such an important policy decision. How did that happen? One only has to look at the obvious nexus of funding between the UK government, Imperial College and the Gates Foundation to get a possible answer to that question.
The real question in all of this should be: who and what is driving western governments’ disastrous lockdown policy? After reviewing the evidence, we can rule out one possibility: it’s certainly not the science.
(TLB) published this article by Patrick Henningson at 21stCenturyWire.com with our sincere gratitude for the coverage.
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Author Patrick Henningsen is an American writer and global affairs analyst and founder of independent news and analysis site 21st Century Wire, and is host of the SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). He has written for a number of international publications and has done extensive on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East including work in Syria and Iraq. See his archive here.
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