Foreign Affairs Runs Propaganda from Swedish Employers on Sweden’s Covid-19 Fiasco, Failing to Disclose Sponsorship and Misrepresenting Results

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Foreign Affairs just published an article that attempts to depict the failed Swedish approach to Covid-19 as not just a success, but even the way of the future. I suppose if you regard failed state in the making like the US as a harbinger, you could view this description as accurate. But nations that aspire to better like South Korea, New Zealand, Germany, and the Czech Republic, would beg to differ. As reader juno mas put it earlier this week, “For a relatively rural, isolated nation, Sweden is a train wreck.”

Mind you, the problem isn’t that the view expressed in the Foreign Affairs piece, in the words of a prominent economist, is “unmitigated horseshit”. People are allowed to say stupid things if nothing else to give parties with a better grasp a punching bag.

It’s that Foreign Affairs failed to disclose that this piece, which touts keeping workplaces and shops open regardless of the cost in lives, was funded by Swedish employers,. Oh, and as we’ll point out soon, this “Who cares if more people die” posture hasn’t helped the Swedish economy much either, even though that’s the supposed justification for running unnecessary health risks. Yet Sweden getting the worst of all possible worlds is nevertheless spun as an accomplishment, and more incredibly, a model.

Specifically, the authors of this piece are all key figures at the Swedish think tank Ratio Institute. Lead wrier Nils Karlson is its president and CEO; Charlotta Stern is Deputy CEO, and Daniel B. Klein is an Associate Fellow. The article lack of a disclaimer that the authors’ opinion and does not reflect the view of Ratio. It is therefore on its face a piece that makes no bones about being official Ratio work product.

And what is Ratio? From Wikipedia:<sup

The Ratio Institute is an independent Swedish research institute focusing on the conditions for enterprise, entrepreneurship and market economy and political change. The institute’s infrastructure is financed by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, but various research projects have financiers like the Wallenberg Foundation.

And who is the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise? Again from Wikipedia:

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise or Swedish Enterprise (Swedish: Svenskt Näringsliv) is a major employers’ organization for private sector and business sector companies in Sweden. It has 49 member associations representing 60,000 member companies with more than 1.6 million employees.

Its budget is the equivalent of $100 million which is not shabby for a country with a population of 10 million. And in case you had any doubts, Jacob Wallenberg, whose family investment entity is far and away the biggest employer in Sweden, forcefully advocates for favoring the economy over public health. From the Financial Times at the end of March. As one Financial Times reader reacted:

A bit ugly to see a rich man talking his book when lives are at stake. The government can make welfare payments to the unemployed, it can’t raise the dead.

Let’s turn to the controversy. Sweden has implemented only minimal Covid-19 public safety measures. Schools and restaurants are open but soccer season has been put off and university buildings are shuttered. Citizens are advised to stay home and avoid travel, but with virtually all businesses open, it’s hard to see how that works.

Here’s an updated chart from EndCoronavirus.org. As you can see, most major European countries fall in the “almost there” category. Note that many smaller nations, like Croatia, Greece, Iceland, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia are classified as “beating Covid”:

Not only has Italy wrestled its infection level down, but so too has Norway, which early on had the second highest contagion level in Europe.

By contrast, here is Sweden:

Admittedly, Finland is also classified as not getting the disease under control, but as we’ll see soon, its level of infection per capita is an order of magnitude lower than Sweden’s.

Sweden’s approach was getting fierce pushback from experts a month ago, demonstrating that its failure was evident even then. From an April 14 article in Forbes:

Sweden’s relatively relaxed approach to controlling the spread of the coronavirus has come under fire in international media and from many locals in the capital Stockholm, where more than half the country’s deaths have been recorded. Now, 22 researchers have publicly criticized the strategy and called on politicians to make changes

In an opinion piece published today in Dagens Nyheter, the group of researchers from a range of top Swedish universities and research institutes make harsh criticism of the Swedish Public Health Agency and their present coronavirus strategy. They say that elected politicians must now intervene with “swift and radical measures.”

The researchers say the agency has claimed on four different occasions that the spread of infection has levelled out, despite evidence to the contrary. They point out the slowdown in infections and deaths in Finland, which has implemented much more restrictive measures….

The researchers highlight Finland, which has recorded ten times fewer deaths than Sweden on a per-person basis. Sweden’s deaths as a percentage of population is also much higher than Denmark and Norway, which have also introduced strict measures.

Since these scientists weighed in, Swedish officials have had to admit to negligence in handling elder care homes, where workers weren’t supplied with PPE and lacked guidance. From France24:

Sweden, whose softer approach to the coronavirus has garnered international attention, admits it has failed to adequately protect the elderly, with around half of COVID-19 deaths occurring among nursing home residents.

Reports have flooded Swedish media in recent weeks of care home staff continuing to work despite a lack of protective gear.

Others have refused to work and workers are encouraged to stay home even with mild symptoms, leaving homes short-staffed.

Other personnel have admitted going to work despite exhibiting symptoms of the virus, potentially infecting residents, while some elderly have reportedly been infected while admitted to hospital for other treatments and then sent back to care homes where they unwittingly spread the disease.

Oh, but wasn’t the cost of 3,300 lives worth it? To put that in perspective, if you scale up from Sweden’s population to America’s, that would be tantamount to 109,000 here.1 The US is only at 83,000, Even factoring in the highest recent excess death estimate for the US of 37,000 versus a bit over 2000 for Sweden puts the population-adjusted figures roughly on a par, with 120,000 for the US versus 115,000 for Sweden scaled up to the US.

Sweden has almost nothing to show for its human toll. Just as one economist said of Chile under Pinochet: “People died so markets could be free.” Even the Wall Street Journal won’t put lipstick on this pig:

Shops, restaurants and even nightclubs have been allowed to stay open in Sweden. There are no curbs on the manufacturing and services industries. But that doesn’t mean life is normal here.

Despite recent warm weather, streets are quieter and business is slower because many Swedes, like Ms. Sandblom, take government guidelines seriously and even go beyond them to avoid catching the highly contagious pathogen.

All of that is contributing to what Sweden’s government estimates will be a 6% contraction in domestic consumption this year. Combined with a forecast 10% drop in exports, Swedish authorities predict, the result will be a 7% decline in overall 2020 economic output. The eurozone economy as a whole is projected to contract by about 8% this year, according to a European Commission estimate.

Now let’s turn to how the Foreign Affairs piece tries to spin this sorry state of affairs. It begins by depicting public health measures, which even now, polls in the US and the UK show citizens overwhelmingly want to continue until coronavirus is under better control, as authoritarian. And that makes Sweden a lone shining “because freedom” model.

The employer shills then embarrassingly tries the canard that Sweden is well down the path of practicing eugenics creating herd immunity. In fact, no one knows if contracting coronavirus confers anything more than short-term immunity. Even if it did, the high virulence means over 82% of the population would need to have gotten sick for the disease to die out on its own, and not the much lower level touted in the article.2 Oh, and Sweden does not have a firm handle on how many people have gotten the disease. Consistent with its thin connection with facts, the authors also assert that Sweden is “flattening the curve”. Um, a less steep incline is not flat.

The authors nevertheless baldly claim: “When much of the world experiences a deadly second wave, Sweden will have the worst of the pandemic behind it.” No one in the US, which as we pointed out is in a similar spot-death wise, believe that, except perhaps fringe wackos. It’s just embarrassing to see Foreign Affairs dignify tripe like this.

Contrast this piece with a CNN op-ed by a bona fide expert, Yaneer Bar-Yam, of the New England Complex Systems Institute, an expert on pandemics and other complex systems. He also advises the WHO Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network on Ebola eradication. Bar-Yam was the co-author of a January paper with Nassim Nicholas Taleb that warned that coronavirus had already spread too far for contact tracing to be an effective containment strategy, and instead recommended travel bans, masks, and social distancing. His current take:

Many governors are opening up their states as part of the White House effort to reopen the country. But as a pandemic expert who has been warning about diseases like Covid-19 for nearly 15 years, my message to Americans is simple: save yourselves, your families and your communities by staying at home and ignoring your governor’s “ludicrous” policies…

Citizens should know that reopening states is very unlikely to restore economic well-being. In fact, prematurely reopening society would likely cause the disease to escalate and lead to prolonged economic hardship…

But, based on research I’ve conducted, I believe that if we take a more aggressive approach now and keep towns and cities locked down, we can defeat Covid-19 in four to six weeks…More than a dozen countries have flattened the curve and substantially decreased daily new infections by ensuring strong lockdowns, facemasks for everyone, strict travel restrictions and isolation of infected individuals away from home. Countries that have not imposed sufficiently strict measures, like the US, continue to struggle to contain infection rates….

Now, I and many others are issuing another warning: the decisions of some US governors to prematurely ease social distancing is a disastrous mistake and citizens need to ignore them. Our research — and common sense — show that lifting social restrictions will lead to an explosion of Covid-19 cases and cause countless more deaths. The correct way to relax restrictions is to start with parts of a state that are Covid-free for 14 days and allow only essential travel to those parts of the state with 14-day quarantines for inbound travelers.

Foreign Affairs has made itself a menace to the public by running Swedish business propaganda and not even telling readers of the glaring conflict of interest of its authors. And if the Ratio trio thinks they are really onto something, let them prove their bona fides by publishing an academic-level piece and subjecting it to scrutiny. You can be sure they won’t because they are selling an empty bag.

____

1 The US has only 10.8% of its population living in single-person households versus 18.4% in Sweden, and Sweden has universal health care, so the mortality level is even worse than the raw data suggests.

2 Based on a CDC study that estimated R0 at 5.7.

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142 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Only time will tell of course, but its increasingly looking like Swedens approach will be shown to have been very badly misguided. A question the Swedes will have to ask themselves was whether it was a calculated risk that went wrong, a case of arrogance and smugness among their elites, or something more malign, involving ideology and inappropriate business influence.

    An issue not mentioned in the article is that outside care homes, Covid has hit minority communities particularly badly. It seems that no consideration at all had been given to how to protect communities with different lifestyles (and immunity profiles). I glanced through an interview last week with one of the Swedish researchers and his justifications struck me as increasingly desperate, and entirely dependant on the dubious assumption that herd immunity will protect Sweden from future waves.

    I posted this yesterday, but as extra evidence here is a fairly detailed comparison of Irish and Swedish rates. If a few months ago you’d told an Irish person that the Irish health authorities would do a better job in a pandemic than the Swedes, you’d have had trouble stopping them laughing.

    Reply
    1. Zamfir

      The graphs in that article imply that Sweden has stopped and reversed the disease, only slower than other countries in Europe. I found another graph with new entrants to the IC (so slightly different than the graph in the Irish article), which was now about half the peak. For conparison I found similar new-IC numbers for France (where the measures were rather harsh), and they were now at about 1/6 of the peak.

      Is that really a great failure for Sweden? they succeeded in the prime goal – prevent the disease from going out of control. They probably walked closer to that edge than comfortable (and closer than they thought they would), but they didn’t go over, and they are now walking away from the edge.

      Reply
      1. The Historian

        I don’t know what graph you are looking at. The graph in this article clearly shows that Sweden is plateauing – meaning they are not reducing their daily cases. And I think the over 3400 Swedes that have died would disagree with you that Sweden prevented the disease from going out of control. What “edge” is acceptable? How many unnecessary deaths are you willing to live with – as long as one of those unnecessary deaths isn’t you, of course.

        Reply
        1. Dirk77

          I hope I’m too cynical, yet given all that Yves says above is true, I keep thinking the US should have followed Sweden, not that it was the best way – as NZ and others appear to be doing that – but bc the US is a failed state. As I’ve said before, in this century, the response of the federal government to a crisis to a great degree is always a scam. Who can not agree that the US would have been better off if after 9/11 and the GFC, the federal gov had done nothing? Though I’m sure new scams, such as search for a cure, and the Fed continuing to do God’s will, will make things worse, the cat is pretty much out of the bag. So moving toward a NZ approach for the US would still be a good thing. Yet when the damage is tallied some time in the future, Sweden is going to be looking good comparatively speaking.

          Reply
        2. Zamfir

          I referred to the graph in ICU cases in PlutoniumKun’s article, which is going down but slowly. I looked up more information here:
          https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/09f821667ce64bf7be6f9f87457ed9aa (that looks anonymous but is directly from linked from here https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/smittskydd-beredskap/utbrott/aktuella-utbrott/covid-19/bekraftade-fall-i-sverige/

          They show new IC-cases (Nya intensivvårdade fall/dag). This trend is continuously downwards since early april, now roughly 20/day vs 40/day at the peak. They also have a graph of deceased (avlidna/dag). This is vaguely going down. Around 90 in the middle of april, around 70 in early may. (followed by a sharp drop for the last week, which might be a due to some backlog of not-yet registered cases, and should probably be disregarded for now.)

          Overall, i would say that this is enough evidence that Sweden is reversing the virus, just rather slow. I am not advocating that this is good! There’s a lot of dead people in that slower response, and more to come.

          Reply
          1. The Historian

            You are clutching at straws. ICU admissions are a very bad way to measure Covid because ICU beds are very limited. If you have a number of long term admissions to ICU, then OF COURSE the ICU admissions will go down because there just isn’t any room to admit many more.

            A much better, although not perfect, way to measure Covid is by the number of new cases being reported every day, and Sweden is NOT doing all that great under that metric.

            Reply
            1. rusti

              If you have a number of long term admissions to ICU, then OF COURSE the ICU admissions will go down because there just isn’t any room to admit many more.

              If Zamfir is grasping at straws, can you link some reports of people being turned away from the ICU in Sweden because the ICUs are at or near or at capacity? They built a big tent structure outside one of the hospitals in my city a couple months ago because they were anticipating a big influx of over-spill, but that hasn’t arrived yet.

              Reply
              1. a different chris

                >can you link some reports of people being turned away from the ICU in Sweden because the ICUs are at or near or at capacity

                I can’t and am not going to bother to look. Simply, the weakest are purged first, so less ICU’s/mild drop off is what you expect if you do nothing.

                Do a simple mental experiment: Chucky Manson the 2nd murders 10% of the population every week. So every week he kills less — Success! He’s coming under control!

                No.

                Reply
                1. rusti

                  This makes sense if a large percentage of the vulnerable population is affected, as in your example with 10% per week would quickly show.

                  But using this logic, if drops in ICU there’s already a downward trend towards 10-30 hospitalizations per day owing primarily to significant proportions of the population already having been infected then it would imply that COVID-19 was far more contagious and far less deadly than anyone projected. I doubt that’s what you mean to argue.

                  If only a small percentage of the potentially ICU-bound population has been infected so far, nationwide ICU admissions wouldn’t be trending in this direction. You can criticize their strategy and the body count that has already piled up, but if you’re going to mock Zamfir’s arguments then you should come with actual substance. JK’s assertion below seems much more plausible to me.

                  Reply
              2. Birchleaf

                At no point has has remaining ICU capacity been less than 20%. That being said, between January and March ICU capacity more than doubled, so had we done nothing, there would have been people dying from lack of care. But so far everyone in need of IC should have been able to get it.

                Reply
            2. Zamfir

              Why the hostile response? I don’t have a particular line to push here, I am just trying to figure out what’s going on. If I was in Sweden, I would want a faster decline regardless of whether the current trend is flat, or slowly rising or slowly falling.

              We have several numbers to go by – positive tests, daily deaths, new IC patients, current IC occupation, and someone below posted total daily deaths for any cause.

              Of those, the positive test numbers are flat. All others are going down. The new IC cases go down most. All of these numbers showed a strong rise in late march, some continuing that rise in early April.

              My interpretation is that the disease is decreasing in numbers in Sweden, but slowly. Perhaps new cases are now half the peak. That is not a hard conclusion – other interpretations are possible. It would help if we had numbers of tests, to tell ether the flat trend in positive test might be due to increased testing.

              I do think that we can say, with certainty, that Sweden stopped the original fast growth. If there is still exponential growth, it is either very slow or very local.

              Reply
                1. JK

                  In control of covid-19. Not really.

                  To me the numbers indicate that sweden and covid-19 are in a kind of stale mate, The #case is hovering around 600 a day So maybe conditions and measures result in slow decrease,
                  Seems that the make-up of cases is getting slightly younger (and 1/3 too 1/2 is care staff).
                  One can argue whether finding out that care staff infected is a good thing.

                  However, i seems delicate balance and many things can turn the tide in favor of covid-19.

                  Reply
          2. The Rev Kev

            @ Zamfir

            Pretty sure that I read last week how some Swedes were being refused access to an ICU bed as there were not enough and older people were losing out as they were more “expendable”. I am beginning to suspect that Sweden’s records are on the dodgy side of life.

            Reply
        3. Birchleaf

          The graph here is showing new cases, which means that when you increase testing, the curve tends to go up. The curves showing number of deaths or patients in intensive care are imho better indicators, and both of those are going down in Sweden.

          Reply
            1. Seamus Padraig

              But your own graphs indicate that both new cases and new deaths peaked about 3 weeks ago. If Sweden was able to achieve that without seeing their hospitals swamped, that was the whole purpose behind ‘flattening the curve,’ wasn’t it? Or are the lockdown advocates now moving the goalposts again?

              Reducing infections to zero is simply not realistic with viruses as widespread as the Corona viruses. Just like influenza, there has never been a time when none were in circulation. In the absence a working vaccine–which, I remind you, may never exist–building up herd immunity is ultimately the only strategy in town. The real question the is not whether, but how best to build that herd immunity in each case. Keeping all of civilization under lockdown forever is not realistic, and will cause problems (including health problems) far, far worse than any Corona virus.

              Reply
            2. Birchleaf

              Not making shit up. The 147 deaths reported on May 13th include corrections for underreporting on earlier dates. Cut that bar in half and you see a nice downward slope from late April and onwards.

              Also, how you report corona deaths varies between countries. Belgium and Sweden include all deaths where there were coronaclike symptoms whereas most other countries only report confirmed cases.

              Looking at total deaths per day 2020, regardless of cause, compared to the daily average 2015-2019 you can clearly see that April was worse than May.
              https://www.scb.se/contentassets/edc2b33f85ad415d8e7909002253ed84/2020-05-08—preliminar-statistik-over-doda-inkl-eng.xlsx

              Reply
              1. Yves Smith Post author

                All you have provided is a spreadsheet with entries that can’t be verified. Not a great way to inspire confidence.

                The government has been engaged in regular data fakery, as the piece by 22 scientists cited above pointed out:

                The researchers say the agency has claimed on four different occasions that the spread of infection has levelled out, despite evidence to the contrary.

                It is also open to question as to whether nursing home cases are yet being fully included. From a May 8 article:

                Paul Franks, a genetic epidemiology professor at Sweden’s Lund University states: “The existing data suggest that the infection rates are probably much higher in Stockholm than in London and a little higher across Sweden than across the United Kingdom.”

                Sweden finally banned visits to its nursing homes on April 3, after it realized that a third of its total virus fatalities (not counted in the national tally) were occurring there. Even so, the nursing home rules are lax: Staff are required to wear masks and gloves only if the resident is suspected of having the virus.

                Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell now admits that nursing homes “are our big problem area.” One of his staff stated that nursing home deaths are “probably underestimated, as regional health infectious diseases units were reporting that many elderly who died were not being tested.” Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven confessed that nursing home deaths was a “serious situation.”

                https://www.idahostatejournal.com/opinion/columns/coronavirus-deaths-may-be-undercounted-by-60-percent/article_160e471a-d024-5fe7-9345-39a6f734d675.html

                The FT’s work on excess deaths stops for Sweden before mid-April, so I can’t cross check that.

                And a mere two weeks is pretty thin to declare a trend. NYC had a downslope of about a week that reversed itself.

                Reply
      2. Susan the other

        If Sweden’s operating assumption is that Covid-19 will wear itself out and go away they could be in for big disappointments. Fauci said yesterday that opening up the states is a bad idea and will ultimately lead to a worse economic outcome that staying the course now. Covid-19 will probably mutate for a long time before it fizzles out. Maybe Sweden’s calculation was that they had good hospitals and health systems and could take care of the epidemic without flattening the curve – that flattening the curve was not important to their system. The one thing Sweden cannot control is a spontaneous population-wide boycott of their previous lifestyle – enough Swedes will be cautious and stay home to drop the economy by 10% – more or less equal with the rest of Europe. So allowing too many deaths among the vulnerable seems a little irresponsible to say the least – all other things being equal. It kinda reminds me of The Seventh Seal.

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          They’ve stated quite explicitly what their operating assumption is and their policy is for those who are feeling sick to self quarantine and for the vulnerable to be isolated. In other words they are treating as though it is the flu but with special features.

          Perhaps we should talk about what the US operating assumption is. Are current restrictions going to stay in place until a vaccine arrives? To what extent are people cooperating with current policies? There was that story yesterday about the two neighborhoods in Queens with the hispanic one largely ignoring mask rules and other protections.

          As for The Seventh Seal which I just re-watched the other day, that was a movie about religion, not medicine.

          Reply
            1. Carolinian

              Oh I think Bergman was a lot more concerned with the psychological aspects of dealing with the grim reaper than the whims of fate. Also he was the son of a Lutheran minister and religion is often a major theme.

              Reply
          1. a different chris

            Not arguing with you, but that isn’t a “policy”. A policy has teeth. Do you get fined for going outside when you’re “feeling sick”?? Is there a definition for “vulnerable”, let alone “isolated”?

            Who makes the list and inspects the “isolation” facilities?

            If you aren’t doing both then you don’t have a “policy”. You just have political hot air.

            Not even going to bother to point out that “feeling sick” is a bit late to isolate yourself with this bug.

            Reply
        2. rusti

          If Sweden’s operating assumption is that Covid-19 will wear itself out and go away they could be in for big disappointments.

          This is quite the opposite of the logic claimed by the public health authority. They say that it aint going away until there’s a vaccine or some critical mass has active antibodies, so they say they want to find a middle ground between lockdown and overwhelmed hospitals. It sounds plausible enough and has wide acceptance among the population, but I’m of the opinion that it would have been more prudent to take a harder stance in the beginning to give time for treatments to develop.

          The one thing Sweden cannot control is a spontaneous population-wide boycott of their previous lifestyle

          It’s not like the government is forcing people to go out and lick doorknobs. Cafés and bars are packed and the government gives (to steal a term from Yves) wet noodle lashings because many won’t abide by even the light-touch restrictions that have been imposed.

          I’ve seen some headlines about people with underlying health conditions who can’t receive unemployment benefits when they don’t want to go to work and risk exposure, but reading international news coverage of the situation here is terribly bizarre because there’s no attempt to understand anything in context. It’s usually either the Black Death or factories full of happy employees churning out Ikea furniture and hoping the rest of the world can share in their prosperity.

          Reply
          1. Susan the other

            We’ll see how it turns out in the end. My guess is that it will be more difficult and expensive for Sweden to control the social-economic effects of Covid because for a longer time there will be enough sick people to slow down the factories and restaurants and public places over a longer time frame. But they might well have more control over it than the US does because we’ve got people marching in the streets with guns. The last idiots’ march in Michigan sent 80 newly infected people to the hospital with Covid.

            Reply
          2. JK

            Another aspect is that health authorities stated that they only want to institute measures which can be sustained over the long term. They expect that covid-19 will not disappear anytime soon. This has been one of the justification against a lockdown, which cannot be maintained over longer period of time.

            One thing I never heard them say is that they want to eliminate all infections etc. Keep it managable. And it seems this is playing out right now.

            At the moment it seems a “high(!) intensity insurgency war” fought in the covid-wards of hospitals. While the rest of society continuing with some kind of normalcy.
            Whether swedish society is willing (or able) to sustain the casualty rate, is an open question.

            An interesting presentation of the current death toll can be found at https://adamaltmejd.se/covid/
            Its based on official information from public health authorities.
            It estimates that based on the reporting behaviour , today already 3800+ people have died in covid-19. The system simply hasn’t registered them yet.

            Reply
            1. Conal

              Another aspect is that health authorities stated that they only want to institute measures which can be sustained over the long term

              Yes I think this is the key mistake. In fact the optimal policy when a serious outbreak has occurred is to first crush it, and only then to worry about implementing a policy you can sustain long-term.

              In NZ, for example, the official policy was “Go hard, go early!” because they could see that the rapid growth of the epidemic was going to escape their ability to trace, test, and isolate infections. They instituted a very drastic lockdown, and brought the epidemic under control. They are currently seeing approximately zero new cases per day. The official line is that community transmission has been “eliminated”. They’ve used that time to ramp up their tracing and testing capacity, so they are better able to deal with any future outbreaks which might occur. In such conditions, it’s fairly safe to gradually loosen restrictions, as they have done, and are continuing to do.

              Sweden’s authorities, by contrast, decided they would tolerate the epidemic if they could keep the effective R from exceeding 1. Looking at their epidemic trajectory, it seems to me that R in Sweden must now be very close to 1 (i.e. a steady state epidemic). This compares to R in NZ and Australia which stricter measures brought down to about 0.4 or 0.5. The result is that NZ and Australia have suffered little more than a hundred deaths between them, despite having 3 times the population of Sweden, which has recorded over 3000 deaths, and continues to climb.

              Reply
      3. PlutoniumKun

        I really can’t agree with that interpretation. The more recent slight dip in Swedish ICU numbers is consistent with plateauing and having addressed the immediate problems in nursing homes and among the Somali community. Unless you are looking at figures different from the ones I’ve seen I see no evidence that they have the R0 number in decline, which is absolutely essential for long term control of the virus.

        The simple bald fact is that they have had far more deaths than comparable neighbours, the trend lines are looking bad, and there is no evidence that their approach is better for the economy. The only hope that advocates for the Swedish approach have is that somehow herd immunity roars to the rescue, but given the still very low infection rates so far, there is minimal evidence that this is possible.

        Reply
        1. Zamfir

          I put my source above in a response to Historian, I’ll not put them here again or I’ll look like a spammer ;-) Please take a look. I really think that “definitely downwards but rather slow” is a good summary.

          Reply
    2. DJG

      Plutonium Kun: Thanks for this comment. Astute, as always.

      I checked on the Swedish government, and I was taken aback to see that it is a minority coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens. Are these hollowed-out parties that have lost touch with their bases? In most of the rest of Europe, the Greens and socialists have called for greater protection of the populace, not some shambolic quarantine.

      The article by George Lee from RTE is very well done. Even the endnotes at the bottom are clear and filled with good data. The central point is that the Irish government decided it didn’t have the capacity in the hospital system to take any risks–and that Eire didn’t need to endure a major outbreak, a decision made simply on the precautionary principle.

      I’m wondering if the difference you note in Eire came from having to deal with Brexit and the lunacy of the English elites. The Irish realized that they had to control their own fate, and they may have learned that even as a small country, there is enough native talent and depth of culture to successfully make decisions on its own. There has been plenty of lunacy from London to assess and counteract.

      Also, any country that can produce Mrs. Butler’s chocolate bars with Irish whiskey in them can’t be all that inefficient.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks DJG. I think the Irish government made some good moves for a variety of reasons, not all replicable. They were certainly very slow at a political level at the start. But a key reason I think is that the technical side of the health authority is quite centralised. A relative of mine is quite senior in the health service and was involved at an early stage and said that the no.1 person in charge is known as a very decisive character and got the wheels of administration moving very quickly. The irony is that my contact said that while the previous incumbent was better liked and maybe more respected by his colleagues, he was more of a ‘lets set up a group to study this’ type of manager, while the current guy is very much a ‘lets act on this and worry about it later if we’ve got it wrong’ type. There was certainly a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ preparation going on well before political action took place, and that was simply a matter of luck I think that the right people were in position at the right time.

        On other levels, Ireland also benefited from having made lots of expensive preparations for Brexit. A lot of the Covid plans are simply Brexit emergency plans with the title crossed off and replaced. So that was certainly an advantage. And there was a certain element of competitiveness with the UK – Ireland wanted to be seen to be more decisive and ahead of the game. In a pre-Brexit world, Irish politicians would probably have been content to just follow the lead of whatever the UK was doing.

        Politically it came at a good time too – as the Irish election was over and done with at the end of January, the issue didn’t become politicised. The Irish PM is also a doctor, so he had no excuse for not understanding the issues.

        One other issue I think is important in the Irish context – Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe to finally conquer TB and Polio and other infectious diseases. As a result, there are still older doctors and administrators around who remembered those days. I think there was a certain amount of administrative ‘muscle memory’ at work, compared to the UK and other countries where pandemics was just something they’ve read about in history books. A lot of Irish action was taken using old TB regulations and laws, which were simply dusted off and implemented.

        Reply
      2. John A

        The Swedish Social Democrats are Blair/Clinton 3rd way neoliberals. In their heyday until the 1980s, they were alway more or less the majority party or at least with 45% or so voting share. Since the neoliberal turn, they keep losing votes and the Sweden Democrats, a kind of nationalist party, are neck and neck in polls. All the other parties refuse to enter into coalitions with the Sweden Democrats but most general elections are pretty hung in Sweden these days.
        Everywhere privatisation in Sweden has produced worse results – healthcare, education, pension reform, railways etc., but the neoliberal line remains unalterable TINA dogma. Very sad.
        The Wallenbergs have such control because listed companies in Sweden have A and B shares with different voting rights so they can control the votes, without necessarily having most of capital. And the Swedish media are stenographers these days. Dagens Nyheter, referenced in the article, was traditionally a kind of ‘The Guardian’ liberal daily but is now rabidly anti Russia, pro Nato etc., as its British equivalent.

        Reply
      3. rusti

        Are these hollowed-out parties that have lost touch with their bases? In most of the rest of Europe, the Greens and socialists have called for greater protection of the populace, not some shambolic quarantine.

        The Social Democrats have gone from winning perennial majorities in the 20th century to eking out minority coalitions when they can form a government at all (there’s a strong Third Way streak in the party), but I don’t see any evidence that their handling of this crisis is costing them anything electorally. Quite the opposite.

        Broadly speaking, people here seem to be proud that “we’re doing things their own way”. Favorability ratings are as high for the Social Democrats and Löfven as they’ve been in a long time, and the anti-establishment parties have experienced corresponding drops in opinion polls.

        Reply
  2. James P

    The charts from EndCoronavirus.org are misleading. The Y-axis is total cases not per capita and is not the same scale for all countries. Therefore using these charts to make comparisons on how well different countries are faring relative to each other is misleading.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? They are showing how well each country is doing at containing its infection level. All countries start at zero, so showing if they are trending back to zero or not is valid. And the groupings are all about their progress toward containment. The shape of the curve country by country is an important and valid basis of comparison.

      Reply
      1. guilliam

        Although I completely agree with the thrust of this article and this isn’t any criticism of Yves, those Endcoronavirus graphs which I’ve seen all over the internet are an absolute disgrace. As an ex maths teacher and someone who’s also done stints of data analysis I’ve learnt one of the most important rules of thumb of making sense of complex data is that any graph where both axes aren’t labelled with clear scales is trying to advertise rather than convey meaningful information. Tellingly they’ve been most enthusiastically shared online by my least numerate friends. And the fact that I agree with the message they’re trying to convey in this case doesn’t make it any better because obviously it gives organisations I don’t agree with licence to do the same thing

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Again, I beg to differ. Those charts are being displayed SOLELY, as far as I can tell, for purposes of putting a country or state in one of three categories: beat the disease, getting there, or long way to go.

          In other words, this is not complex data. The point is the trajectory: is the line going back down and how far back down has it gotten? That is why all the charts are itty bitty. The point is the shape of the line, period. They are telling you by the small size not to try to over-interpret them. I may have given the wrong impression by screenshotting the Swedish chart and showing it all alone.

          Reply
          1. Conal

            I agree; I think these charts should be understood as “sparklines”, rather than as detailed graphs. They are intended to convey the shape of the epidemic trajectory rather than its absolute (or even per capita) extent.

            Reply
        1. James P

          Wrong. At least in my case. I am not even remotely connected to any think tank. But I do know a little about the use and misuse of graphs. While I agree that the shape of the graph is an important factor, if all the graphs are not using the same scale on the Y-axis then the shapes are distorted. I think any country would prefer to have a flat curve at a very low per capita infection/mortality rate than to be trending down from a very high per capita infection/mortality rate. Since all graphs do not share a common Y-axis scale there is no way to know which case applies to each country. Those are embarrassingly poor graphs.

          Reply
          1. Jack Parsons

            Per capita is irrelevant! Per capita would be relevant if this was a cancer caused by a pollutant in the water supply, because then everyone would be dosed equally. This is a disease of urban concentrations and in-person interactions.

            The spread of COVID-19 is modulated by, in abstract, two things:
            1) How dense the population is, and
            2) how dense the population is.

            Reply
    2. Lambert Strether

      When twenty countries have a (roughly) bell-shaped curve, and two countries have an upward slope followed by a plateau, that tells you to look for something that the two and the twenty countries are doing differently, regardless of the absolute numbers on the y axis. The charts are serving their purpose, and are the very reverse of misleading.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        Not necessarily. If the bell-shaped curve is on the order of thousands, but the raising curve is on the orders of tens, the curves are misleading.

        For example, Austria is classed as “got there” with the cases sitting in high tens now (70ish I’d say as a median), but the neigbouring CZ is not, even though it hasn’t had > 100 cases for two weeks now, had >100 cases only once in the last three weeks, and median is closer to 50. But CZ curve “looks” less flattened because it never was as high as the Austrian (over 1k at the top), so on scale the Austrian looks like it now has a nice thin tail of cases, vs the Czech one which clearly dropped, but not so much compared to the top – even though on cases-per day measure basis Austria is performing worse (and that ignores per capita, where Austria 8m vs Czech 11m).

        That said, the classification for “must do better” is much clearer cut.

        Reply
    3. Tom

      No its not. Yves is right. If we include the scale all it will do is reduce or increase the size of the graph relative to each other. In other words if all of them were plotted on the same graph some countries’ plots would be smaller than the other. But they would still be the same shape as the ones above. Hence they would show what they need to, i.e. the trajectory of the number of new cases arising per day.

      Reply
  3. Jesper

    Possibly it might be of interest to look at the percentage of people living in urban areas?
    The average population density figure is one point of data and might not be telling the full story. Here is data from the worldbank showing the level of urbanisation:
    https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS
    & according to the data on where the population lives then Sweden is more urbanised than the european average and more urbanised than the US. The relatively rural is in my opinion not an accurate description of Sweden.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? The population density of Sweden is considerably lower than the US and Europe overall. The US is 36 people per square KM v. 25 for Sweden. In France, it’s 119 per KM. Europe overall is very similar to the US, at 34 per KM.

      Reply
      1. Jesper

        Sure, by looking at land-area then most of Sweden is rural but by looking at where people actually live then Sweden is very urbanised – as seen in the data from the Worldbank.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Please don’t continue to provide misleading information. And I should not be made to prove the obvious.

          1. The World Bank says it relies on a country’s own definition of what is urban v. rural.

          2. Pretty much no one outside Scandinavian countries would accept Sweden’s definition of urban:

          An urban area or tätort (lit. ’dense locality’) in Sweden has a minimum of 200 inhabitants and may be a city, town or larger village.[1] It is a purely statistical concept, not defined by any municipal or county boundaries

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_areas_in_Sweden

          The minimum boundary for urban in the US is more than 10X as large, at 2,500 inhabitants.

          Bailey Island, with 2000 summer and 400 winter residents, only a “general store” which has less in it than most gas station convenience stores, with the nearest gas station and real grocery store (the kind where you can get vegetables) and drug store 15 miles away, would be considered urban in Sweden.

          Reply
      2. PlutoniumKun

        I think his point is that Sweden has low density because of a very large area of uninhabited land in the north and west – its otherwise quite urbanised – 88% according to Wikipedia. From my experience, Sweden has quite an unusual mix of fairly high density towns and cities, mixed in with lots of smaller centres – quite high density (lots of apartments, even in outer suburbs), with of course huge extensive areas of summer homes along the coasts.

        It’s always I think very hard to compare density rates between countries, due to different urban and population structures. When it comes to disease propagation, I think there are many other factors more relevant than raw density figures – for example, how many people live in multi-generational households (in Sweden I think, very few, unless you are from an immigrant family). Countries with similar raw figures (for example, South Korea and Japan), can have very different urban structures at a more granular level.

        Reply
        1. rusti

          From my experience, Sweden has quite an unusual mix of fairly high density towns and cities, mixed in with lots of smaller centres – quite high density (lots of apartments, even in outer suburbs), with of course huge extensive areas of summer homes along the coasts.

          This is definitely it. There’s a whole lot of empty space and space that only gets occupied seasonally, both along the coasts and inland.

          As an anecdote it takes me 20 hours on the train when I go up to the far North, and I don’t even live in the “South” of Sweden. I can get to the Alps on a train in the same amount of time.

          Reply
    2. Lambert Strether

      It amazes me that people keep raising population density as a key factor, when Hong Kong, the most densely populated city in the world, has done very well at controlling the virus.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Yes, and Seoul, with a population bigger than New York City’s, has had all of 2 Covid-19 deaths v. over 20,000 for the five boroughs.

        Reply
      2. DJG

        Lambert Strether and Yves Smith: Thanks for these reminders. Further, in Italy, which has had considerable variation among regions, there are some who claim that the Po Valley is the most densely populated area in Europe. And yet we see Lombardy as a generator of infections, Piedmont turning into Lombardy’s New Jersey, it seems, and a very low rate in the Veneto. Further south, highly populated regions such as Lazio and Sicily have done much better than the north.

        I also just checked Cyprus, which as we see from the graphs above, has done very well: 319 persons / square mile. That’s a dense population.

        And there’s Taiwan–with some twenty-four million people on an island *one fourth* the size of Illinois.

        Reply
        1. Ignacio

          It is not just about population density but the combination of several factors.

          1) Absolute lack of preparedness and awareness on risks (This makes the difference for HK, or South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam… IMO). On this, Germany was in better position compared with most other European countries. On preparedness there is a lot to argue about.

          Given 1, there were then some other factors:

          2) Degree of connectedness external and internal before outbursts are noticed. Particularly, though not only, airplane connectivity just before the initial outbursts. This “saved” most of Eastern European countries. Then internal connectivity played a role in the dispersion of clusters.

          3) “bad luck”: this worked in the very beginning, when the chances of clusters origination were still low. Lomardy was hit by “bad luck” and became our canary in the mine. Though some noticed, yet it was then too late for them regarding preparedness (Spain, France). Bad or good luck could be more significant for smaller less populated countries.

          4) Late/Early reaction. Certainly critical when you are not prepared. Gives you time. UK did poorly here.

          Then more minor factors are to be considered: greased healthcare coordination vs. decentralized mess, numbers of ICUs, etc.

          The map of disease development in Europe was, in the early days of epidemics, a connectivity map. Once it was finally!! realised that Covid-19 was something serious management intervened. And here is where Sweden is making the difference, IMO for the worst. Anyway direct country-to-country comparisons will always be somehow misleading given these amongst many other factors intervening, and given differences in reporting, testing practices, healthcare management…

          Reply
          1. JEHR

            One thing for sure that covid has done is point out all the weak spots in each country whether in the political area, in healthcare, in population density, in cultural differences, in poverty levels, in religious beliefs, etc., etc., etc., so I have decided that comparisons will only make it harder to deal with our new realities. Each country will have to deal with its own weaknesses and create its own strengths from their newfound knowledge (if they should chose to reckon with it.)

            Reply
            1. Ignacio

              Yes. For me it has become crystal clear that the need to coordinate a de-centralized healthcare network, like in Spain, only makes things worse. I never saw the point of de-centralization but now the mistake is clearer.

              Reply
              1. Tom Bradford

                New Zealand’s public health is delivered by 20 fairly autonomous District Health Boards, which seem to have done pretty well in their response.

                I’m not arguing against your point, except for its absoluteness – a well-run centralised network is likely to be more efficient than 20 de-centralised authorities. However if the center is inefficient or badly run it perpetrates that failing across the board while a degree of autonomy does at least allow some local authorities to have a better response, as seems to be illustrated by the situation in the US.

                Reply
          2. Jesper

            +1
            My post was intended to mean that one calculated value is probably not sufficient to predict much. The calculation of average population density has informational value, it is not sufficient to take that one calculation without considering other factors.

            The linked to France 24 article offered up some complementary explanations, one was this:

            “Sweden’s Nordic neighbours also introduced bans around the same time, but have recorded far fewer care home deaths.

            But unlike in those countries, Swedish nursing homes are often large complexes with hundreds of residents.”

            Possibly that explains some of the difference, possibly it explains nothing. I’d consider the theory worth investigating, it is my personal opinion that it might be worth investigating that theory and as with the opinion that I do not consider Sweden to be relatively rural I might be wrong.

            Reply
  4. Thomas P

    Where did anyone get the idea that Sweden is “isolated”? One reason we got hit hard early on was that lots of Swedes had been down in Italy skiing during the critical period. We both trade and visit other countries a lot. “a relatively rural, isolated nation” would actually fit better on USA where only a small fraction of the population travel abroad. The population densities are similar, and in both countries a bit misleading since most people live in cities.

    The nursing homes are a disaster, but not the result of any deliberate response to the pandemic but from earlier sins with privatisation where they are run for maximum profit with too little staff with too little training.

    The curve of reported cases of Covid for Sweden is almost useless since too few tests are made, but there is a consistent drop in people in intensive care as shown in a figure in the article about Ireland PlutoniumKun linked to, in reported deaths attributed to Covid and in total mortality.
    https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/09f821667ce64bf7be6f9f87457ed9aa
    https://scb.se/hitta-statistik/statistik-efter-amne/befolkning/befolkningens-sammansattning/befolkningsstatistik/pong/tabell-och-diagram/preliminar-statistik-over-doda/
    (Given delays in reporting the most recent data is way too low)

    Sweden is hardly a success story, but the extreme views, positive or negative, given in many foreign stories bear little resemblance to reality.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Match for that straw?

      1. The statement was “relatively isolated.” Sweden’s land borders are with other relatively low population countries. Its airport is not a major hub for any international carrier. It does not have a port or river that is on the route to major urban centers.

      2. “Being hit early” and having travel to and from Italy is no excuse. As we pointed out, Norway had the second highest disease rate in the EU for the same reasons. Its death rate per capita is 1/10th of Sweden’s.

      3. The second link is to a spreadsheet that I cannot read and certainly cannot verify. The first is to a table that I similarly cannot read. At best, it appears to show a flattish level for what look like deaths. Since deaths + the comparatively few excess deaths put the total at the US death rate, which is seen internationally as a disgrace, I don’t see how you can complain about what are clear cut facts.

      You look to be engaged in diversionary tactics while failing to dispute any of the key points of the post:

      1. Foreign Affairs was dishonest in not making clear that the post authors were speaking on behalf of Swedish employers.

      2. Sweden’s experiment with minimal containment strategies has produced death rates well in excess of neighboring countries

      3. The experiment failed to deliver its supposed benefit of saving the economy

      4. Sweden is not getting coronavirus under control. At its high death rate, even a flattish death curve is way way too many lives lost.

      Reply
      1. Thomas P

        1. It is true that Sweden would be reasonably easy to isolate from the rest of the world, but that doesn’t help when the disease is already spread in the country before the government reacts.
        2. One difference is that Norway as I understand it have very different system for nursing homes, making it easier to protect those most vulnerable. That Sweden failed here is clear. We’ve adopted a lot of neoliberal policies in privatizing public services, cutting capital taxes etc.
        3. Both links are to official Swedish government sites. The fact that few read Swedish but have to rely on second or third hand sources doesn’t help understand Swedish policy or its results.
        4. I was commenting on the Swedish response to the panemy, not the article in Foreign Affairs. That lobbyists write articles promoting their special interests is hardly surprising, and you should always be careful trusting them and do what you did, check who they represent. I think calling it “dishonest” is only appropriate if a group pretend to represent something different that they do like all those astroturf groups. (On the other hand, the article from “22 researchers” you referred to was also full of factual errors).

        Reply
      2. Tom Bradford

        With respect and while points 1 and 2 are self-evident, points 3 and 4 are only true at this moment in time. IF exposure confers a degree of immunity – still presently unproven – and IF there is a second more lethal wave – which history indicates is the norm – Sweden’s approach might yet prove to be better than to have a second even more economically damaging lockdown or accepting a higher fatality rate to ameliorate it.

        Even six weeks ago, given what was known and unknown then, I suggest ‘herd-immunity’ was still a legitimate option to consider – where that approach very clearly failed was in going hard to keep the virus out of retirement and nursing homes. Had that been done I suggest the fatality rates would be far lower and, for most people, CV been no more than a nasty flu’.

        It seems obvious now that ‘herd-immunity’ was the wrong policy to adopt but in a year’s time it might not be so obvious.

        Reply
        1. a different chris

          >and IF there is a second more lethal wave – which history indicates is the norm

          All history? Or have we decided the Spanish Flu is all we need to consider?

          Reply
    2. Lambert Strether

      > the extreme views, positive or negative, given in many foreign stories bear little resemblance to reality.

      I couldn’t agree more. “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s'” is indeed a headline in a “foreign story,” but one so over the top I would expect to see it in some third-tier publication like Alternet. In its colorful, comic book-like prose, it reminds me of the famous words of Marvel’s Stan Lee: “Hail, HYDRA! Immortal HYDRA! We shall never be destroyed! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place! We serve none but the Master—as the world shall soon serve us! Hail HYDRA!” I mean, come on, man.

      Reply
  5. Thuto

    Sweden has created groupies of the global business elites, even here in South Africa the agitators for a reckless reopening of the economy all hold up the Swedes as role models. The “Swedish model” has become theme du jour with covid commentary, every business lobby holds it up as an example of how a “successful, measured response” to Covid 19 looks like and as is to be expected, the cherry picking of data coming out of that country is rife.

    One hopes this experiment ends well for the Swedes but the way in which business elites across the world are all over Sweden like a cheap suit to push through their reopen agenda is concerning.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      Sweden has also become the darling of many conservative groups who are out trying to prove that a lockdown was never necessary. And yet at the beginning of the year these very same groups had Sweden on their crap list of countries and made their feelings know. Here is one example of the sort of rubbish that you could see online, this one by Paul Joseph Watson-

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iERLyAxddVE

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether

        If “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s” were a serious piece, it would be running in a peer-reviewed journal, like The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, or JAMA. Reputable alternatives would be Science or Nature, who often publish popular material on policy.

        So why Foreign Affairs? From where I sit, it looks like the United States business community used Foreign Affairs, as an arbiter of elite opinion, to launder its own views on re-opening — i.e., their profits are more important than public health — through a putatively neutral Swedish source. Too bad, because the ultimate effect will be reputational damage for both the CFR (which runs Foreign Affairs) and Sweden.

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          reputational damage

          Oh surely that horse has left the barn as far as the CFR is concerned. Whatever one thinks of US Covid policy, our foreign policy is a lot worse and has killed a lot more people.

          Reply
        2. Petter

          Ratio is not a neutral source. It is part of the Atlas Network, formerly The Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the mother of all neoliberal think tanks according to Philip Mirowski in his book Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste.
          https://www.atlasnetwork.org
          Just copying and pasting from the Network’s home page:
          ___________________________________________________________
          STRENGTHENING THE WORLDWIDE FREEDOM MOVEMENT
          Atlas Network is a nonprofit organization connecting a global network of more than 475 free-market organizations in over 90 countries to the ideas and resources needed to advance the cause of liberty.
          _________________________________________________________
          Wallenberg is invested in private health care and is obviously not a neutral actor. It is the owner of Aleris, one of Norway’s largest private health providers. Aleris, incidentally was in trouble a year ago due to violating Norwegian labor laws.
          Kristin Clemet, former Conservative Party (Høyre) parliamentarian and current head of Civita, another member of the Atlas Network, has been pushing for converting the Norwegian health care to the Swedish model, that is, more privatization because it will be more effective and there will be more choice and freedom blah blah. Which is not to say that the Norwegian public health service is without its faults but that’s a discussion for another day.
          The Swedish posters here on NC can probably make more informed comments on the Swedish system than me, but here is a seven year old link to a Guardian article on the Swedish system.
          —–
          Private Health Care:the lessons from Sweden
          https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/dec/18/private-healthcare-lessons-from-sweden

          Reply
        3. IsabelPS

          “If “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s” were a serious piece, it would be running in a peer-reviewed journal, like The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, or JAMA. Reputable alternatives would be Science or Nature, who often publish popular material on policy.”
          Oh no, it wouldn’t. Here is another piece of propaganda in the Lancet:
          https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31035-7/fulltext?fbclid=IwAR3oauszj-sNwqt5NCTQSSS0H4RgCbg_uO2CBwQKrtNvo0Uw6xDHeHsGSf0

          Reply
    2. Carolinian

      push through their reopen agenda

      This crisis has been full of agendas including, here in the US, the political agenda of a president running for re-election and an opposition that wants to prevent that at all costs. I’m not sure the agenda test is dispositive on any of these medical questions.

      But as to Sweden, it’s a sovereign country and as long as the Swedish public supports their policy then why is that our concern?

      Reply
      1. Thuto

        When Sweden gets brandished by local business elites as a reason why the economy of a country over 14k km away should be recklessly reopened then I do think it starts becoming a concern. No regard for the social, cultural and demographic differences between the two, they just parrot the “because Sweden” trope and think government should cower and reopen. ..

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          Even if Sweden’s policy is totally motivated by neoliberal greed, as some would claim, I’m not sure what that has to do with us. Do you think “local business elites” (not all businesses are elite btw) would not be “pushing” if there was no Sweden? In fact I’m not sure they are pushing. When our governor said restaurants could reopen many said they’d just as soon not. Businesses after all have lots of constraints other than government regulation. They have to worry about being sued, about getting enough people to work, about whether customers will even show up etc

          Reply
          1. Thuto

            I can’t speak for the US but here in SA they’re pushing, vociferously so. I say “business elites” because it’s the CEOs of listed companies and the institutes and think tanks they support that are beating that drum the loudest. The local media has become an echo chamber for the reopen brigade and has abdicated its responsibility to give voices on both sides of the issue an unbiased platform, instead choosing to create the impression that there’s a consensus view on reopening.

            You’re right that they would be pushing even without Sweden, but because everyone wants to be seen as “data led”, they’ve latched onto Sweden as a convenient model to pull up to support their push.

            Reply
  6. Woodchuck

    Anyone knows what their method of counting deaths is? One of the main thing that I feel is very hard for comparing how well a country is doing with another is how they are counting their deaths (also how much and where they test, but let’s stick to deaths for now). Even within the same country it can vary significantly (here in Canada, I know that Quebec that is doing the worse death-wise is counting deaths in a clearly over-estimating way, which is not the same in all provinces).

    My guess would be that Sweden has a much more conservative count of their number of deaths than their neighboors, as I would guess that regions/countries that enforce the strictest restrictive measures will over-count their deaths to justify the means and keep people cooperative while if they have lax measures they would want to undercount to show that they were right. It probably doesn’t apply everywhere though and could vary based on culture, political aims, etc.

    But I’m curious about what Sweden’s method is and how it compares to its neighbooring countries

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree that that is an issue. However, we already covered possible concerns about Sweden doing a better job of classifying Covid-19 death levels by looking at “excess deaths”. That’s widely seen as the best consistent if somewhat rough proxy.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      Sweden only counts confirmed cases, so is likely at the ‘understated’ side of the curve – if you compare their systems to countries like Ireland (see my link above) and Belgium, they are not counting cases that would be included in many other countries. They are also well behind most European countries in carrying out tests.

      There is no evidence of any country over counting deaths – as the recent FT report indicated, nearly every country has a seasonal elevated death rate, even allowing for stated Covid deaths, strongly indicating that there is a lot of undercounting going on.

      Reply
      1. IsabelPS

        Portugal provides a fairly good comparison with Sweden, I think, because it has roughly the same population, it had the lowest count of critical beds in Europe and Sweden the second lowest, it has 1/3 of deaths compared to Sweden (Portugal counts whoever has covid9 on the death certificate, but only if tested), 3 X more tests (Portugal nowadays tests whoever has symptoms and is also testing all staff of old people’s homes, plus first responders, etc when, as far as I know, Sweden only tests people that are sick enough to go to hospital) and the number of cases is fast getting even in the 2 countries. Last I saw the excess mortality numbers, Sweden has 28% more, Portugal 10%.

        Like PlutoniumKun said, if anybody would suggest this comparison 6 months ago, people would ROFL.

        Reply
        1. fajensen

          Ohhh – You gone and tainted “The Brand”;

          The Leadership here get really testy whenever those nasty and irresponsible South Europeans does better than perfectly organised, morally pure, and totally not corrupt (like we see in those “documentaries” about Sicily*), Sweden!

          In about 2 years time “Uppdrag Granskning” will dig out some of the dirt, piece together part of the underlying scandal and some symbolic heads will roll over it, while the branding effort will be cranked up a notch. The culture, values and the politics that generates scandal after scandal seemingly in every area one cares to look, will however not change:

          My impression is that “The Brand of Sweden” is the primary thing that matters to decision makers in Sweden. Right after that comes “Order” and “Purity” – part of “Purity & Order” is the keeping of all “societal issues” inside of their centrally-planned and rationally designated “issue-container”!

          So, again In my opinion, Sweden handles Covid-19 in the same way it processed all the gang violence, which was: With indifference on the law enforcement side for as long as the violence happened inside of “the designated gang-violence areas”.

          Then panic and pearl-clutching, finally enforcement happened, when the unchecked violence overflows into places where “proper people” live (and also, of course, the residences of the top of the drug dealers and users) *and* this somehow becomes “A News Item”.

          It was found to be Especially Upsetting that “Sveriges Demokraterne” so callously breaks ranks and decides to profit politically from the fact that one for years could get mugged by Maroccan street gangs right in the middle of Stockholm and “Nothing is Done About It” – because of SD it becomes News that Damages The Brand. Then the system spins up and enforcement happens. For a while, until the story dies down (Sweden is seriously under-policed).

          With Covid-19, the old peoples homes are the “designated dying areas”, so, yes ok, they do die a bit faster recently, but it is inside “the issue container” so Order and Planning still prevails, Purity is preserved and therefore Nothing can be done any better by Anyone – and this is pointed out repeatedly every evening on TV, like prayers in the church!

          I.O.W.:

          Covid-19 will eventually be taken seriously here after foreigners say something like: “We are not going to travel to that plague-pit in Stockholm and then get stuck in precautionary quarantine for 2 weeks on the return journey!” and “healthy people”, who are also “known” enough to be “News Items”, croaks from it! The Narrative is Everything, the Results are Secondary!

          *) They manage to whack the whole of Denmarks annual murder rate in Malmö around March-April, each and every year! This is considered to be regrettable, but normal!!

          Reply
          1. vlade

            “They manage to whack the whole of Denmarks annual murder rate in Malmö around March-April, each and every year! This is considered to be regrettable, but normal!!”

            There is a reason for the whole Nordic noir..

            Reply
  7. Watt4Bob

    The the parent organization my employer belongs to, has insisted the big shots stay at home.

    The owners are essential, the rest of us are like pieces of lego, easily replaced.

    They have strict quarantine rules covering those employees who’ve traveled recently, right down to the shop floor, but I’d say it’s to avoid becoming an out-break as opposed to preserving individual health.

    I’m virtually the only one wearing a mask, although we have home-made masks available, it seems there’s an unspoken expectation that public facing employees only wear masks if the customer is wearing one.

    I’m ‘support’ so I don’t deal with the public, but do work closely with my fellow employees, and fear the possibility that I might infect anyone.

    I think it’s helpful to watch how the leadership of these ‘open-up’ business interests behave, compared to how they want the rest of us to behave.

    Reply
  8. eg

    I’ve been serving a gigantic glass of shut-the-familyblog-up to the “but Sweden!” shills for weeks now.

    Keep up the great work

    Reply
  9. Ren

    Seems like sweden was already infected by the ideology that accompanies economic individualism. Mark blyth had a paper with a student that showed that sweden financialised the fastest and most amongst scandanvian countries . No wonder now they are having a hard time closing down their economy. Its likely ideology that’s stopping their leaders.

    Reply
  10. The Rev Kev

    I just noticed something strange with Sweden’s case figures. I went looking for their resolved cases which was their cases recovered and their recorded deaths. Looking at yesterday’s figures, I see that 3,313 Swedes have died and 4,971 have recovered which adds up to 8,284 resolved cases. Perhaps I am doing something wrong but when I do the maths, that works out that about 40% of those resolved cases ended in the person’s death. That cannot be right so I must be missing something. Or else Sweden’s reporting is kinda off.

    Reply
    1. JK

      The recovered cases, is a tricky thing. It seems that hospitals are not required to report, people who are leaving hospitals alive to the public health authorities. Meaning its not reported by “Folkhalsomyndigheten” covid dashboard.
      It needs to be collected somewhere else. For example the “press release from Region Stockholm” states that 3454 left the hospital In another region more than 1500 people left the hospital alive.

      Sadly its an artifact of incomplete reporting and probably cannot be relied upon

      Reply
    1. allan

      Being in Mercatus means never having to say you’re sorry.

      Speaking of pseudo-intellectual houses of ill repute, does anybody know whether the
      Hoover Institution’s Richard `500 US deaths’ Epstein has gone into the Witness Protection Program yet?

      Reply
  11. Jos Oskam

    I must confess that I am starting to feel a tad uncomfortable with the tsunami of articles in which the authors beat readers over the head with numbers, graphs and statistics to prove that they alone have the right approach to battle COVID.

    As I understand it, the whole social distancing idea is meant to “flatten the curve” so that the health services are not flooded by so many infected people that they can’t handle the inflow anymore and must start rejecting patients. As far as I know, that has not yet been the case in Sweden, I have not heard of any Swede dying of COVID because he could not be admitted to hospital, intensive care or whatever.

    In my opinion it is not unreasonable to assume that, when no vaccine or super treatment is discovered, COVID will ultimately cause a certain percentage of the human population to die in any case. Either quickly in places where no measures are taken, or over a longer period if there are. Social distancing might flatten the curve but I have not yet seen convincing evidence that it reduces the surface under the curve.

    Given the lack of clear and reliable statistics, noisy data, unclear attribution of cause of death and total lack of insight in the real number of infections, I am afraid that it at this moment not possible to declare any country’s approach to combating COVID a success or a failure.

    In 2021 we’ll be able to analyze the mortality statistics over 2020 and the years before, with special emphasis on the excess deaths in various countries during known periods of epidemics. Only then, over a longer period and a broader population, can one start to make sensible statements over how COVID has influenced death rates and possible relations with the measures taken.

    Let’s wait until next year before praising or condemning any country on their COVID strategy. Until then for me personally the jury is still out.

    Reply
    1. CoryP

      This is where I’m at right now.

      I’m a huge reader of WSWS and they also have an article today on Sweden and a brief history of its neoliberal turn and privatization spree.

      But even though I agree with their criticisms of societies set up for profit over the greater good… if you have no cure or vaccine your area under the curve is still going to be the same over time.

      So I’m withholding judgment but I’m still morbidly fascinated by the day to day progression.

      Reply
      1. CoryP

        I take this back. Pessimistically, I expect most Western countries with half-hearted “lock-downs” will end up in the same mortality range as Sweden. But that doesn’t excuse either of the approaches; Sweden gave up without even trying, and effective treatments could be discovered.

        But for countries that aren’t aiming for true eradication plus strict border controls, I don’t see what the end-game is.

        Reply
      2. fajensen

        But even though I agree with their criticisms of societies set up for profit over the greater good… if you have no cure or vaccine your area under the curve is still going to be the same over time.

        Assuming that no vaccine, no improved treatment regime, and no cure will ever be available is going quite a bit out on a limb, in my opinion.

        It is likely that there will be monoclonal antibodies available within some months and that alone will change those assumptions. The investment in HIV is paying off!

        Since we cannot resuscitate the dead, all of those that died before the change are permanently lost whereas the ones who hasn’t died yet still have a chance. The ‘might as well get it over with’ is taking that chance away (and is probably not going to work anyway because the wider this virus spreads, the more it will likely mutate in order to stay alive).

        Reply
        1. CoryP

          Yeah that’s very true. I was feeling grumpy about the fact that Canada’s half assed (and apparently brief) lockdown is going to bring us to the same point as Sweden in the end. Or at least it looks that way.

          But then again this is a country where that MAb therapy will probably even be free! So I was wallowing in cynicism to an inappropriate extreme. My bad.

          Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m sorry. Ten times as many deaths, a death rate on par with the US, and no improvement in the data, does warrant condemnation.

      Your “everyone will be the same” is the same palaver as the Foreign Affairs piece is selling and it is false. Look at South Korea . Its “resurgence” of cases is a mere 34. We have ten times as many a day in Alabama, with less than 1/10th the population of South Korea. Even Japan which has a botched initial response has a low infection rate.

      This is a rationalization of inadequate action. Mandatory masks would do a ton to reduce contagion levels and that is cheap and easy.

      Reply
  12. Synoia

    The leading epidemiologist for Sweden has said their strategy is to aim for herd immunity as quickly as possible, because he (and others in Sweden) believe there will be a second wave in “none herd immunity” counties this coming winter. As I recall he was reported to say this is his sixth experience of a Corona Virus.

    Which is what I recall of the 1957/8 flu epidemic. In the UK, it came back hard in the spring on 1959. So hard that 50% of my boarding school were ill in the early part of 1959, the first term of the year, or as we called it the “Lent Term,” which ended just before Easter.

    Under the Swedish theory, the countries that have managed their current infection rate, will experience another wave of infections and death in late 2020 or early 2021.

    I believe the Swedish Public Health group would assert that one cannot discern if their strategy is correct or incorrect until this time next year.

    My only hope is that he is much better than the UK’s strategy in WW 1 “we have more people than the Germans, so if the British can kill one German for every British death, we will win the war.”

    Reply
    1. rusti

      The leading epidemiologist for Sweden has said their strategy is to aim for herd immunity as quickly as possible, because he (and others in Sweden) believe there will be a second wave in “none herd immunity” counties this coming winter. As I recall he was reported to say this is his sixth experience of a Corona Virus.

      Have a citation for these bolded items? I’m not enamored with the public health authority here, but this seems awfully surprising.

      Reply
        1. rusti

          I found your claim to be highly surprising given that I’ve followed statements from the public health authority both in Swedish and in English and this sounds like a large departure from the public messaging.

          Your link does not support either of the two things I bolded in your original post. Do you have a reference that does?

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            Google the good doctor. It’s clearly spelled out in his public pronouncements.

            The novel coronavirus in Sweden has spread to over 17,500 people and killed more than 2,100, as of Friday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. While cases continue to grow, the country has taken the surprising route of not imposing a nationwide lockdown.

            Despite international derision over the decision, the scientist behind Sweden’s coronavirus strategy claims the controversial move has been effective as the increased number of people exposed to the virus will hopefully help prevent a second wave of infections.

            The decision to not issue a lockdown “worked in some aspects because our health system has been able to cope,” Anders Tegnell, the chief state epidemiologist at Sweden’s public health agency, told the BBC’s Radio Four’s Today program.

            The country has by far and away the highest death toll among Scandinavian countries—more than double the number of cases in Denmark and nearly four times as much as in Finland.

            But Tegnell argues: “At least 50 percent of our death toll is within elderly homes and we have a hard time understanding how a lockdown would stop the introduction of disease.

            “We already had a law making it illegal for visitors to come to elderly homes. They need constant care, they need a lot of people coming and going to take care of them.

            “So it’s a bit unclear to us if a lockdown really would have stopped this from happening or not.”

            Reply
            1. rusti

              I can find a large number of explicit denials of your original claim, “The leading epidemiologist for Sweden has said their strategy is to aim for herd immunity as quickly as possible”, and nothing that supports it as you’ve written it. Here’s one from two months ago, Tegnell: Herd Immunity Not Main Track, that Google should be able to translate reasonably accurately.

              You can call him a lunatic or disingenuous and you may be right, but it seems odd to insist that he said something he didn’t say that he has repeatedly called a mischaracterization.

              When searching for “sixth coronavirus” I find nothing. One hit about it being the WHO’s sixth emergency health situation.

              Reply
              1. Synoia

                Herd Immunity Sweden

                Swedish authorities have not officially declared a goal of reaching herd immunity, which most scientists believe is achieved when more than 60 percent of the population has had the virus. But augmenting immunity is no doubt part of the government’s broader strategy—or at least a likely consequence of keeping schools, restaurants, and most businesses open. Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, has projected that the city of Stockholm could reach herd immunity as early as this month.

                If herd immunity is not the goal, what is?

                Reply
                1. marym

                  The quote from Townhall is from the Foreign Affairs article discussed in this post. The Townhall post is framed as a “look at both sides,” and also cites counterarguments including this.

                  Reply
                2. rusti

                  Swedish authorities have not officially declared a goal of reaching herd immunity

                  Not only have they not declared it, they’ve explicitly denied it multiple times. That’s a huge departure from, “has said their strategy is to aim for herd immunity as quickly as possible”.

                  If herd immunity is not the goal, what is?

                  Yes, it seems perfectly reasonable to harshly criticize the approach of, “We’ll let it reach a level that’s under ICU capacity but still results in a lot of deaths and try to keep it there teetering on the edge for the foreseeable future.” I was shocked when Denmark closed the borders without advanced warning to our government, but it seems more reasonable now in hindsight.

                  My objection is to attributing quotes that are, from what I can tell, mistranslations, exaggerations or fabrications.

                  Reply
              2. Synoia

                It may have been the sixth flu season, but I don’t believe so.

                The quote was last week from the Epidemiologists about his rationale for his recommendations, and he was speaking to his experience.

                I Don’t recall the source. My previous post appears substantive on Herd Immunity.

                Reply
              3. Synoia

                And Here

                It is very difficult to know; it is too early, really. Each country has to reach ‘herd immunity’ [when a high proportion of the population is immune to an infection, largely limiting spread people who are not immune] in one way or another, and we are going to reach it in a different way.

                Reply
  13. jeff

    …so you are denying that herd immunity is a reality, that we do not need to build up our immune system to fight disease? I’m confused.

    In what way is flushing the global economy down the toilet and keeping people miserably isolated for an indefinite period with utterly no plan a reasonable alternative?

    There may never be a vaccine, it may be seasonal, there could be a second wave. No one knows. It isn’t that there is misinformation, we simply do not know the answer.

    So we have elected to choose the route of complete panic and fear, shivering in place like scared sheep over a virus that STILL has significantly less deaths than the flu does every year. It has been a completely nonsensical “solution” from day one. Lives and businesses are being irreversibly destroyed, this is an extremely unhealthy road to go down, and we didn’t even stop to ask whether it made sense. It is very concerning how terrified the average human is and what freedoms they will throw away at the drop of a hat, as well as how ANGRY and utterly unwilling they become to hear an alternative viewpoint.

    Sad times for humanity.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are really not up to speed. Even the TV news in Alabama is better on this topic.

      There is no evidence that getting Covid-19 confers meaningful immunity. Interestingly, the public health official tonight was even more forceful: may not confer ANY immunity. They were discouraging people from getting the antibody tests, on the assumption that they’d go out and act as if they were immune when they might not be.

      Covid-19 is a coronavirus. Of the other common coronaviruses, like the common cold, immunity is so short-lived as to be pretty useless. The longest immunity so far is IIRC to MERS, and that is 34 months. MERS also has a much higher mortality rate than Covid-19, on the order of 1/3.

      Reply
      1. skippy

        If I may intrude Yves …

        I find this whole Herd immunity thingy as some sort of Lamarckian perspective acerbated by its framing in a Market Place setting.

        Per se the incessant framing that its an old people [non productive] or weak people [going to die sooner than later – limited productivity] when in reality is a huge neon sign that the Market [tm] has failed in its responsibilities to deliver a service E.g. nursing homes [last extraction point abattoir] where the old are off loaded so productive people can maximize their utility in the market place of individualistic consumption for style points.

        I have nothing but admiration for you in looking after your mother [considering others lives within the family] with everything else on your plate, self sacrifice on so many levels.

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          Too true.
          Sacrificing the old and infirm because they are ‘non-productive’ is a basic tenet of savagery.
          We here in the half-horse town have told our children that neither of us will go quietly into a nursing home. From watching Phyl’s parents decline and die in one such place, (Phyl was overruled by her richer than us sisters.) we learned of the basic nihilism that controls the very system these places adhere to. Phyl’s siblings evidently haven’t learned that money is no substitute for love. (Money is nice to have, but what you do to get it is very important.)
          Good fortune to you in navigating your own ordeal.

          Reply
          1. skippy

            Thank you for your concern ambrit, but, its a huge weight off my shoulders to be foregone of my wife’s psychological dramas – feel better than I have in yonks.

            Still love her, but past indiscretions, manic path dependency, and due to the cognitive impairment of her injury our past is moot E.g. I would have to date her all over again post her rehabilitation – she is a process in works at the moment and for her good I have to stand aside.

            Reply
    2. a different chris

      >that STILL has significantly less deaths than the flu does every year.

      ???? Say what ????

      CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza (Table 1).

      34,200 across the whole year. We’re at 84k and it’s mid-May. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=covid-19+mortality+so+far&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=covid-19+mortality+so+far&aqs=chrome..69i57.6374j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

      Reply
  14. FedUpPleb

    Sweden has 3-5 times the deaths of other countries.
    But other countries have multiplied their unemployment rates by well over 5 times.

    Being brutal, I think Sweden will turn out to be right here.
    Very much depends of the fallout of the coming Depression (the last one did not work out well), but even now I would say that the number of lives saved in many countries does not justify the number of lives that are going to be destroyed by the fallout from this. Not even a swift end to neoliberalism makes up for the cost of the lives and futures which are going to be lost from this.

    If I told you a lockdown would result in job losses like 2008, would you still defend it?
    If it turns out that the job losses are going to be worse than 2008, will Sweden be right?

    Reply
    1. Bazarov

      Ah yes, lives “saved” vs. those “destroyed”—rather euphemistic, I’d say.

      The balance on the scales seems to be, if I’m reading your comment right:

      Human Sacrifice vs. Employment/Consumption

      So “right” here seems to be, per your comment: Hasten to sacrifice thousands (in the case of the US, perhaps hundreds of thousands–we’re pushing 100,000 right now!) so that people can keep their salaries, consume, and ensure that businesses have revenue. This, keeping in mind, that recessions/depressions usually result in lower mortality, not more (as in: all cause mortality goes down, as it did during the Great Recession).

      Human sacrifice is indeed alive and well–the Aztecs would blush at this! But at least the Aztecs were afraid of God. We tremble, and demand blood, when the Market is Displeased.

      How much letting of other people’s blood do you think it will take? I mean, to make sure the Market is Pleased so that it does not “destroy” lives?

      We certainly wouldn’t want all those lives to be “destroyed,” most especially so that others might be “saved”! Perish the day!

      Reply
    2. c_heale

      Korea has had a much lighter lockdown than most other countries (to the degree that nightclubs were open at the beginning of the crisis and last week – which has led to a new outbreak) and yet has far fewer deaths than Sweden, and the economy has kept going although on a lower level (and is badly affected by Korea’s reliance on exports). Imo Sweden was completely wrong, as was the UK and the USA. The only way to control this and keep the economy running to some extent is by extensive tracing and isolation of infected/potentially infected people, and widespread wearing of masks and other precautions. Save the people and you will save the economy. If you don’t save the people the economy will be destroyed by virus as collateral damage. Sweden’s approach is a joke imo.

      Reply
    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Agnotology, or as we call it, Making Shit Up is a violation of our written site Policies. From April 30 in CNBC confirming our WSJ account above:

      Data released from the country’s central bank and a leading Swedish think tank show that the economy will be just as badly hit as its European neighbors.

      Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, gave two possible scenarios for the economic outlook in 2020, both are bleak….

      In the first scenario, the Riksbank predicted unemployment could reach 8.8% in 2020, from 7.2% currently, and in the worst-case forecast could hit 10.1%.

      https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/30/coronavirus-sweden-economy-to-contract-as-severely-as-the-rest-of-europe.html

      Comparisons to countries that are differently situated, such as more exposed to trade with the US and UK, are spurious. Or ones that were already basket cases, like Greece.

      South Korea is expected to have the biggest increase in unemployment of the major Asian-Pacific countries due to high dependence on services, at 4%. I’m not sure what the baseline is since this S&P estimate was released in April. However, it’s unemployment rate in April was 3.8%, so adding 4% to that gets you to 7.8%, below where Sweden is now.

      Oh, and Thailand despite having a lot of tourist business is expected to see unemployment rise by only 1%. And they were early to shut down tours from China.

      Reply
    4. a different chris

      > the number of lives that are going to be destroyed by

      Define that? You can’t and won’t. We are destroying food, if not we’d have enough to feed ourselves. Our energy companies are crashing, but the gas is still there (better if it wasn’t, but that’s another topic).

      The US managed to feed and house everybody during WWII. But too many staying home on the computer will make that impossible?

      Give me a break.

      Reply
  15. juno mas

    Even the Swedish Ambassaddor to the U.S. will tell you that Sweden should not be used as a model for containing Covid-19: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-02/sweden-coronavirus-voluntary-strategy. (paywalled)

    There is only one-sentence in the Op-Ed that provides a mea culpa for the failure to protect the elderly. Something that was apparent to most every national health service after seeing Italy suffer extraordinary morbidity. That Anders Tegnell could be baffled by how a highly contagious disease could spread throughout the nation and NOT find its way into elder care facilities, is to be over-confident (with other peoples lives).

    Asymptomatic spread of Covid-19 is the joker in this deck. The more people who unwittingly spread the disease throughout society the greater number that will eventually will be infected. And the more that will die from it.

    Reply
  16. Temporarily Sane

    The only way the “minimalist” approach can be lauded as a success is if certain segments of the population, namely older people and those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus, are simply written off as unworthy of the right to life.

    Reading accounts of what’s been happening in long term care homes in Canada and the UK (Sweden and the US don’t have a great record here either), including patients that were essentially left to die in their own filth as staff stopped showing up for work, is absolutely appalling. And the media has been all but silent about it.

    Sure the usual “concerns” about “mismanagement” are mentioned but it seems like media organizations think informing people about the extent of this “mismanagement”, the horrific conditions at these places and how in some areas (e.g. Ontario, Canada) Covid-19 tore through care homes like a wildfire, isn’t really necessary.

    It’s a sign of the neoliberal times that it is quite acceptable in polite circles to suggest that if “only” the sick and the old die that’s okay because, well, they are sick and old.

    One reason for the China panic (aside from the fact that China is the Empire’s chosen existential enemy du jour) is that a dictatorship and countries with authoritarian regimes, e.g. Singapore and South Korea, have done far more to protect their populations from Covid-19 than the troubled democracies of the west.

    That’s an extremely bad look from the standpoint of trying to sell economically disenfranchised people in declining nations on a supremacist fantasy that they are the pinnacle of human culture and civilization. So deflect, scapegoat and disassemble. And conveniently write off those who are not in perfect health or in the bloom of youth as expendable (just think of the money that can be saved)!

    Reply
    1. a different chris

      >It’s a sign of the neoliberal times that it is quite acceptable in polite circles to suggest that if “only” the sick and the old die that’s okay because, well, they are sick and old.

      Man look at the “gepay” post that follows yours. Wow.

      Reply
  17. gepay

    like everywhere – over 90% of the deaths in Sweden were people over 70. Nobody under 20 has died. children went to school. Daycare stayed open. People went to work. I imagine the comorbidities were similar to Italy. Maybe I am callous but the lives that are being saved by having a total lockdown (if any for more than the short term) are not quality lives. And it should be noted the numbers everyone is using are not quality either. I imagine most of them do not have a long time to live.in any case. There will be consequences with the destruction of the world economy. There will be more children who will be malnourished with consequences for the rest of their lives. the sick the poor the unhealthy aged – these are the people adversely affected by SARS COV 2.but the poor even more by the lockdowns – one example the millions of migrant workers in India. this is not the black plague.. But hey the AI people and Amazon and Bill Gates and ….love the lockdowns. I am over 70 and fortunately healthy so I am not afraid of SARS COV 2. I am much more worried about new armies of mass surveillance (Governor Newsome even used the word army in describing the new hires he proposes). .Is that big brother watching? (do you really think it will stop afterwards. Trillions being stolen by big corlporations and Wall street. I think actual human contact is important for a healthy daily life.

    Reply
    1. a different chris

      >I think actual human contact is important for a healthy daily life.

      Yeah and I bet people love hanging around with Mr. “Maybe I am callous but the lives that are being saved by having a total lockdown (if any for more than the short term) are not quality lives.”

      You must be a ball at parties.

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Complete bullsuit. This WaPo story leads with a 12 year old with no co-mordidities dying of Covid-19:

      “A very fit 30-year-old triathlete is just as vulnerable as a chess-playing 45-year-old who gets no exercise,” he said. “We just don’t know who it is that this virus carries the master key to.”

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/08/young-people-coronavirus-deaths/

      25% of those hospitalized were under 50. People who are hospitalized are subject to severe health damage, such at to their hearts, lungs, and kidneys.

      And it’s 80% over 65…which is lower than the proportion of older people who die from influenza:

      https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-05-07/comparing-coronavirus-deaths-by-age-with-flu-driving-fatalities

      Reply
      1. Tom Bradford

        But this wasn’t New Zealand’s experience. Only 21 deaths out of 1,497 recorded cases (1.4%). None under 60 and many 80+. Ten of the 21 were from the same nursing home. 95% of cases never even required hospitalisation.

        Over sixties made up around 20% of the total cases so the fatality rate in that group was around 7.5% but in the under-70’s the fatality rate was 0.2%.

        https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/120622513/coronavirus-dashboard-key-graphs-about-the-spread-of-the-virus

        What that tells us when compared with the experience elsewhere I have no idea, but facts are facts! And we’re beginning to get grizzling from the right that the economic damage caused by the lockdown “wasn’t worth it.”

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          New Zealand has fewer inhabitants than Alabama and you suggest we generalize globally from that? Seriously? If I tried generalizing from Alabama, you’d laugh me out of the room.

          And how about the deaths of children in NY State attributed to a weird coronavirus-induced ailment?

          New York state is alerting all other parts of the US about a new mystery syndrome that appears to be related to Covid-19 and is causing severe illness and even death in very young children.

          At his coronavirus briefing on Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said officials were “putting on notice” the health departments of all other 49 states.

          So far three children have died – a five-year-old in New York City, a seven-year-old in Westchester county and a teenager in Suffolk county in Long Island.

          All three showed signs of blood vessel inflammation, and also proved positive for the novel coronavirus.

          Cuomo said 85 cases of Covid-related illness in children were now being investigated by New York, up from 73 on Saturday. Two other deaths are being looked at.

          The syndrome has puzzled health experts because it appears to be striking young children largely in the toddler to elementary school age, who had been thought to be largely unaffected by coronavirus. The symptoms are also unusual.

          https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/10/new-york-mystery-coronavirus-illness-three-children-die

          Reply
          1. Tom Bradford

            No, I’m not suggesting we generalise anything from New Zealand’s experience. What I’m saying is that we should be wary about generalising anything when we’re in the middle of something we don’t fully understand.

            Your experts are puzzling over the awful loss of the three children. New Zealand had nothing like that. Why? I don’t know. There’s nothing that can be generalised from it. But it might be worth someone better qualified that me looking at it to see if there is something that can be learned to help children from on

            But my point, addressing the point of the post, is that it now seems as if Sweden made the wrong policy decision eight weeks ago when we all knew a lot less than we do now. But if you look at New Zealand’s experience it could as well be argued that the wrong decision was made here – we didn’t need to go as hard, and cause as much economic damage, particularly unemployment and destroyed small business dreams, as we did.

            I support what the NZ Govt. did because I can take the economic hit. I know, to nod to, the owner of a small coffee shop who’ll likely be destroyed by a nine-week closure who I think could quite justifiably argue that what was done here wasn’t, on the facts as they’ve panned out, necessary. I can’t say her position would be wrong.

            Reply
            1. vlade

              “on the facts, as they panned out, necessary”.

              But the problem is we don’t know how the fact would have panned out if a government (NZ or other) did not act. We can make some comparisons (with Sweden say), but even at best they are guesses – because again, it’s not directly comparable – say Kiwis are way more social than Swedes, I know, I lived in NZ for years.

              That is the problem with counterfactuals.

              It’s possible that NZ would have coped well. But it’s economy is not dissimilar to Sweden in that it’s heavily export oriented, and would have suffered anyways.

              Now it’s possible that covid-free NZ will be attractive for importing from and thus investment destination. Who knows?

              Reply
        2. vlade

          The problem with looking at the NZ numbers is that they kept the overall infection numbers low. So while a lot of their infections where in the 20-29 cohort ,it was still less than 300, so any statistics on that is pretty much meaningless.

          Where the infection numbers were higher, the mortality and complications were higher.

          It also very much depends on the the comorbidities. I saw recently something like “only 20 adults in the UK who died had no comorbidities, so it’s really just a flu”.

          Duh. Except in the UK 6% have diabetes, every third is classed as obsese etc. The NZ also has 6% diabetes rate, but the US has 10+%. NZ has lower obesity rate (except for Polynesian population) etc. etc. So you have a large population which has comorbidities by default – was he saying that it’s ok for them to die?

          Looking at any mortality numbers, you need to really control for many variables, and direct comparison (or by a single variable such as age) is at best, misleading.

          Reply
  18. Lei

    Singapore was doing so damn well till their unproductive, wage suppressing reliance on migrant workers caught up to them, as well as their employers’ bigoted attitude. But in a strange way its better for those workers to be in singapore than their home countries as quality of care is much better and free for covid-19. Strange how things work. Wish this blog would cover more of singapore considering its such an important part of global finance. I’d pay extra for that.

    Reply
    1. juno mas

      Thanks for the link. Interesting economic study. It illuminates the effect of constraints on economic activity from perceived risks and state mandates during a pandemic.

      The only thing that will renew economic activity in the long run is containing the spread of the virus. And functional treatment of Covid symptoms. Or the silver bullet vaccine.

      Reply
  19. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    It reminds me of how Military planners have made assumptions for wars based on prior experience, who then get the crap licked out of them when something new in tactics or armaments turns up. As Teleb stated models are useless without being fed enough to build a whole picture & what we have here is a Novel virus that only time will tell of it’s full story & in the meantime it doesn’t care about how clever you think you are or your assumptions based on wishful thinking, but it will expose your priorities.

    I guess that being forced to basically rely on very basic measures as in lockdown’s , social distancing & wearing masks, pretty much as they did during the Spanish Flu, doesn’t sit very well with those who appear to believe that they always have everything under control in our glorious high tech sophisticated world. The many have always been disposable fodder of one sort of another, led by the always know it all’s whose intelligence is often limited by the tightness settings of their ideological blinkers & other personal traits – I imagine that for Neoliberals it must just hurt so very good.

    Perhaps some apologies will arrive when the dust settles & it’s too late to matter.

    Reply

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