Hiltzik: The horrible toll of Sweden’s lax pandemic policy

Throughout much of the pandemic, Sweden stood out for its seemingly successful effort to defeat COVID-19 by avoiding the rigid blockades and social distancing rules imposed on residents of other developed nations.

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

A new study by European scientific researchers buries all of these claims in the ground. Posted in Naturethe study paints a devastating picture of Swedish policies and their effects.

The expected levels of “natural herd immunity” are not yet visible anywhere.

– Brussels, et al, Nature

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

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

The details of Swedish policies described by Brusselaers and his co-authors are horrifying. The Swedish government, they report, has deliberately tried to use children to spread COVID-19 and has denied treatment to the elderly and those suffering from other conditions.

The government’s goal seemed geared towards producing herd immunity, a level of infection that would create a natural barrier to the spread of the pandemic without causing distress to middle and upper class citizens; the government has never publicly set that goal, but Domestic government emails unearthed in the Swedish press revealed that herd immunity was the behind closed door strategy.

Explicitly or not, the effort has failed. “The predicted levels of ‘herd immunity’ are still nowhere to be seen,” the researchers wrote, adding that herd immunity “does not seem within reach without widespread vaccinations” and “may be unlikely” in any circumstance.

This is a rebuke to the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely criticized white paper supporting herd immunity research and co-written with Martin Kulldorf, a Swedish Harvard professor who has explicitly defended the politics of his native country.

The country’s treatment of the elderly and patients with comorbidities such as obesity has been particularly appalling.

“Many older people were given morphine instead of oxygen despite the available supplies, ending their lives,” the researchers wrote. “The potentially life-saving treatment was suspended without a medical visit and without informing the patient or his family or asking for permission.”

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

These policies were drawn up by a small insular group of government officials who not only did not consult with public health experts, but ridiculed expert opinion and flocked to defend Anders Tegnell, the epidemiologist of the government that has reigned as the architect of the country’s approach, against growing criticism.

The conclusion is that the Swedes have suffered severely from Tegnell’s policies. According to the authoritative Johns Hopkins pandemic trackerwhile its total death rate from February 2020 to this week, 1,790 per million population, is better than that of the United States (2,939), Great Britain (2,420) and France (2,107), it is worse than that of Germany (1,539). ), Canada (984) and Japan (220).


Sweden has done better than the US and Britain against COVID, but worse than many other countries which have imposed tougher and far worse blockades than its Nordic neighbors Denmark, Norway and Finland.

(Johns Hopkins University via Our World in Data)

More significantly, it is far worse than the rate of its Nordic neighbors Denmark (961), Norway (428) and Finland (538), all of which have taken a more severe anti-pandemic approach.

Anti-blockade supporters continue to praise Sweden’s approach even today, despite the stiff and cold statistics documenting its failure.

Right-wing economic commentator Stephen Moore, op reliably wrong expert on many subjects, straggling about Sweden’s death rate over other countries that have imposed tougher lockdowns: “It appears that Sweden has gained herd immunity much more quickly and completely than other nations,” Moore wrote.

Unfortunately not.

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

This was better than the rate of 6.84 in the United States, where the blocks had cleared and had always been unpredictable, and in Denmark (5.65), but worse than France (3.97), Germany (2.23), Great Britain (2.23), Canada (2.03) and Norway (0.92).

Moore also said: “What is clear today is that the Swedes have saved their economy.”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, of which Sweden is a member, is not so optimistic.

The OECD found it that in terms of the economic contraction caused by the pandemic, Sweden did slightly 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 wave of COVID “. COVID-19, the OECD concludes, “has hit the economy hard”.

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

These included scientific findings that infected but asymptomatic or presymptomatic people could spread the virus, which was in the air, that the virus was a greater health threat than the flu, and that children were not immune.

Swedish policymakers “have denied or downgraded the fact that children could be infectious, develop serious illness or lead to the spread of the infection in the population,” note the authors of Nature. At the same time, they found that “internal emails from authorities indicate their goal of using children to spread the infection in society.”

So the government refused to recommend the use of masks or social distancing or to sponsor further testing, at least initially. One fact that tends to be ignored by anti-bloc supporters is that Sweden eventually tightened up its regulations and warnings on social distancing, albeit only after the failure of its initial policies became clear.

Early in March, when other European countries entered a strict blockade, Sweden banned only 500 public gatherings. In just a few weeks, it reduced the cap to 50 attendees. At first the state did not allow distance learning in schools, but later allowed it to older pupils and college students.

In June 2020, Tegnell himself recognized by Swedish radio that the country’s death rate was too high. “There is obviously potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,” she said, even though he retraced her steps during a press conference after the radio interview aired.

And in December 2020, King Carl XVI Gustav shocked the country by taking a public stance against the government’s approach: “I think we have failed,” he said. “We have a large number of deaths and it’s terrible.”

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

What could be particularly damaged by the experience is the image of Sweden as a liberal society. The pandemic has exposed numerous faults within his society, particularly young versus old, natives versus immigrants.

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

The lesson of the Swedish experience should be heard by its fans here in the United States and other countries. Sweden sacrificed its elders to the pandemic and used its school-age children as guinea pigs. His government lied to his people about COVID-19 and even tried to slander his critics.

These are the characteristics of the policies of the states that have been less successful in fighting the pandemic in the United States, like Florida – the sacrifices endured by the most vulnerable, the scientific authorities ignored or disdained, lie flaunted as truth. Do we really want all of America to face the same disaster?