Sweden’s Covid-19 Experiment Looks Even Worse as Death Rate Rises, Neighbors Contemplate Cordon

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It was only last week that we lambasted a Foreign Policy article which had to engage in truly creative writing in order to depict Sweden’s “no lockdown, no tracing, and confused guidance” approach to Covid-19 as something worth copying. Before then, even the firmly pro-business Wall Street Journal had cleared its throat and depicted the Swedish experiment as a bust: far more lives lost than its neighbors, with no benefit for the economy.

Yet shortly after the factually-challenged Foreign Policy piece ran, so did an oddity in VoxEU, The underpinnings of Sweden’s permissive COVID regime, whose headline too-cleverly make Sweden’s laid back approach to Covid-19 sound like result of its sexual freedom. But if you look at the list of factors that supposedly engendered Sweden’s dodgy approach, they are not only decidedly non-carnal, but it is hard to see how the cultural ones are much different from those of Finland or Norway.

The ones buried in the middle of the piece seem to be the most important:

Keep the economy going

The present government is a coalition led by the Social Democrats, but all eight parties in parliament generally favour the approach taken to COVID. The Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, formerly head of the metal-workers union and now with high approval ratings (Novus 2020), is proving himself to be on the more pragmatic side of the Social Democrats. There is wide consensus in Sweden on the value and moral significance of working. Sweden is also sensitive to its dependence on exports and needs to maintain its service to the world economy. The crisis of the early 1990s is important here: Sweden responded by liberalising, and the reforms have succeeded. The bumblebee has continued to fly despite the heavy tax load.

Aiming for herd immunity?

There have not been official pronouncements about herd immunity, but it is likely part of the broader strategy. Swedish experts have primarily considered the risk groups and have looked to targeted action, with mixed results. Deaths have been especially high among those in elderly care homes despite strict restrictions on visiting.2 Immigrant neighbourhoods have been especially vulnerable as well. However, there has been more success in maintaining intensive-care capacity. The ambition is to have hospital staff on the job; hence, childcare and schools for children up to high schools continue to operate.

Needless to say, not only does more and more evidence indicate the death cost of the Swedish is still vastly higher than that of its neighbors, the financial costs could increase as a direct result of letting the infection propagate with relatively few checks. The Financial Times described yesterday how the countries on Sweden’s borders are considering keeping restrictions in place even as they open up to other countries. The frictional cost of border restrictions will put Sweden at a disadvantage for commerce and tourism.

A version of this phenomenon is happening now with New York City. Even though the Federal bankruptcy courts in New York (the Eastern and Southern district) have long been the preferred venue for corporate filings, with the result that the heavyweight bankruptcy firms also have most of their top professionals in Manhattan, the recent big bankruptcy filings, such as J.C. Penny, are being lodged in Texas instead. Lawyers apparently don’t want to go to the leper colony of New York City if they can avoid it.

From the Financial Times:

Denmark, Finland and Norway are debating whether to maintain travel restrictions on Sweden but ease them for other countries as they nervously eye their Nordic neighbour’s higher coronavirus death toll.

Sweden has the highest mortality rate per capita at this stage of the epidemic, according to a Financial Times tracker that uses a seven-day rolling average of new deaths…

The FT tracker shows that Sweden had 6.4 deaths per million people 61 days after its death rate first climbed above 0.1 deaths per million. That contrasts with the UK’s 6.2 deaths per million at the same stage, Italy’s 5.5, and Spain’s 4….

Denmark is weighing whether to open its borders with Germany and Norway but not to Sweden. Several opposition parties, which have a majority in Denmark’s parliament, have said the borders need to be opened to help the country’s tourism industry but that the high death rate in Sweden was worrying….

Sweden has not closed its borders and cross-border travel is still allowed in many areas for work purposes including health personnel. Norwegians are allowed to visit Sweden but have to go into 10 days’ quarantine when they return. Norway’s centre-right government will decide in June whether to maintain the restrictions or not.

Other newspapers have taken note of Sweden’s death leadership. From the Telegraph, in Sweden becomes country with highest coronavirus death rate per capita:

Sweden has now overtaken the UK, Italy and Belgium to have the highest coronavirus per capita death rate in the world, throwing its decision to avoid a strict lockdown into further doubt.

According to figures collated by the Our World in Data website, Sweden had 6.08 deaths per million inhabitants per day on a rolling seven-day average between May 13 and May 20.

This is the highest in the world, above the UK, which have 5.57, 4.28 and 4.11 respectively.

The only saving grace is that Sweden has only just obtained the status of highest death rate; if you look over longer periods, countries like Italy and the US are ahead.

Oh, and that herd immunity? Fuggedaboudit.

So anyone still trying to sell Sweden as a success is either badly informed or, as readers speculated on our earlier post, has an anti-lockdown agenda. And if this is the best evidence they can muster, workers look to have every reason to want none of it.

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  1. vlade

    The last part – I think we have to be careful here.

    The infected rate is a composite, likely there will be a much higher number in northern Italy but possibly way lower in say Sardinia (or somewhere, because there was no other area hit as hard as Lombardy).

    Combining sets of data in a sensible way is hard (for example, to keep it in the epidemiology, you can have an average R number going down when it may be actually shooting up in a few specific, and dangerous, places – like hospitals and care homes. Welcome to the UK.).

    1. rd

      I have also seen correlations with PM2.5 in the air creating higher case counts. Northern Italy is the heart of Italian manufacturing and tends to have high PM2.5 counts. Other areas of Italy have lower PM2.5 counts, which may play a role in lower cases. International travel hub, very dense population, and air pollution may also have combined to make NYC a disaster. Sweden probably has less PM2.5 air pollution and might have had the opportunity to have fewer deaths, but opted not to go that route.

      Poor data gathering, compilation, analysis, and presentation are hallmarks of this pandemic. We can have all the modern data tools we want, but if we refuse to use them, then they don’t do much good.

    2. ChrisPacific

      Also the demographic differences in death rates are so dramatic that differing death rate statistics are often really statements about the demographics of the infected population.

      New Zealand was running at an extremely low death rate for a while, but it eventually spiked up fairly quickly to 1-2%. This spike is almost entirely explained by the virus taking hold in a couple of nursing homes and elder care facilities. As the article says, the high Swedish number is in large part because they have failed at keeping it out of those facilities. There are exceptions (I don’t doubt that the death rate in parts of Italy was higher because of the hospital system being overwhelmed) but most of the time when you look more closely you find this is the main reason.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Please read more carefully. You are citing completely different death rates than the one at issue here on which Sweden scores so poorly.

        You are referring to case fatality rates.

        What these stories are referring to is the level of Covid deaths per capita, and that was extremely clear in the story. For instance, quoting the Financial Times: “highest mortality rate per capita. ” New Zealand scores impressively well on this metric.

        1. ChrisPacific

          Yes, sorry, you are right. ‘Death rate’ in the context of this article means something different and I should have used clearer language. I think I was conflating the article with one I read on the case fatality rate (which has been an issue in Sweden as well).

  2. Tim

    A study from Universality of Copenhagen used card transactions from 850.000 customers in Den Danske Bank, split between Sweden and Denmark. Comparing the consumption pattern of March-April 2019 with 2020.

    Sweden- consumption down 25%
    Denmark – consumption down 29%

    So Sweden hasn’t really gotten anything on the economic side in return for 4 times as many deaths due to corona calculated on per capita compared to Denmark

  3. Ignacio

    There is another fact to check. No matter what’s the government approach, people in Sweden have their own sense of Covid-19 associated risks that shapes their own decisions regarding working, travelling and consumption behaviour. Such risk awareness is what prevents the R0 from spiking to the high transmission rates observed in cities and regions that were taken by surprise early during the pandemic. Such awareness-driven social distancing might require only few more additional controls (not lockdowns needed) to lower the R0 close or below 1: intensive testing to detect more positives and quarantine whole families when necessary. While this is not done there is a risk for local outbursts that might end with voluntary lock-downs and other disruptions anytime. Also, the reopening of factories could be delayed indefinitely if risk perception doesn’t go down sharply.

    What I dislike the most about this strategy, even more coming from so-called social democrats, is that this will disproportionately impact people in the lower wealth percentiles that are less able to keep social distancing.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I agree very much with your final comment – the worst thing for me about the Swedish approach is that it, in effect, sacrifices the weak. It was obvious from even January that the virus kills the sickest and poorest first. So any strategy dependent on allowing it to expand is explicitely sacrificing those groups. In Sweden, it was obvious that immigrant communities would be worse hit.

      Another ethnical issue is that this is, in effect, a medical experiment – deliberately allowing infection. I don’t see this as any different from giving people an untested vaccine without consent. I’m surprised more medical professionals did not stand up and refuse to co-operate – I don’t see how the Swedish approach is in any way consistent with generally accepted medical ethical principles.

      1. Mel

        Back in the day, I was impressed by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series of detective novels. These apparently were written “real time” with ten novels over ten years covering ten years of Swedish life around the character of a homicide detective. The last two or three novels, in the early seventies got very concerned about the “Reagan-ization” of Swedish society; an increase in plutocratic and police domination. So that’s what we could be seeing now.

      2. Bsoder

        PlutoniumKun – what an excellent way to put it, ” I don’t see this as any different from giving people an untested vaccine without consent.” I do believe you’ve cracked the safe. Let you know in a day.

      3. fajensen

        I’m surprised more medical professionals did not stand up and refuse to co-operate

        I find it terrifying, because:

        The Swedish story feels similar to Germany, probably one of the more civilised, technologically advanced and cultured country in Europe in the 1930’s, and then: Once Authorities say that it is OK and Proper to cull certain parts of the population for some nebulous future glory like ‘the common good’, immediately a significant majority of the professionals (in media, medical and technical fields) will support the new initiatives, and some of those even with enthusiasm.

        In a small way, we are experiencing what it might have been like back in the day, when first the handicapped, the mentally ill and then finally the jews started to disappear.

        1. Bertie

          Just to say before this becomes an echo chamber I’ve been lurking on the subreddit r/LockdownSkepticism and they’re making the same arguments just the other way around – they’re saying that the lockdown is ‘only for the rich and well-off’ because they can afford / have the space to stay inside, and things along a similar line to ‘it is the same as using an untested vaccine with consent’ (because we’ve never had lockdowns before in response to any other viruses).

          Not that I agree with their opinion or this opinion. Just keeping an open mind.

  4. Irrational

    In my, perhaps too simplistic view, the conclusion on which strategy is superior overall cannot be drawn until we have the second (and possibly more) wave(s). Then we will see who has the most or least cases and deaths, including those not properly counted at present.
    I fully agree though that on the sheer reported numbers, the Swedish approach looks foolhardy to say the least, especially when you see how the daily case numbers refuse to tail off. If we assume that those countries which have done well limiting infections now will not have a much more unmanageable second wave, then the evidence begins to mount.
    However, what continues to strike me when reading about COVID is how little we still know.

    1. Bad Robot

      About 2nd wave, I was just thinking the same today. At best countries have 3 months grace in which to prepare for a second wave. It will be starkly obvious which ones used that time wisely….

    2. rd

      A second wave requires the first wave to subside. My suspicion is thqat the US is going to be more like a pool sloshing around where waves will just keeping hitting different areas at different times. The lack of testing, contact tracing, and quarantine assistance (e.g. put asymptomatic/low symptom quarantined people up in a hotel on the government’s nickel) means that there will be continually eruptions that get out of hand. Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Sundays at church etc. will all be spreading events.

      1. Synoia

        The US appears to stumbling forward in an imitation of Sweden’s practice, especially Wisconsin. The numbers for Wisconsin over the next few months will really test the Herd Immunity process.

        Starting in the next 3 weeks, Wisconsin’s infection numbers per day should raise appreciably.

        Lock down is a Hospital Bed management policy. The ultimate goal is Herd Immunity or a Vaccine.

        I will certainly refuse the initial vaccine. I do not trust rushed medical inventions as being safe. I clearly recall the Avaclor failure.

        1. DHG

          And those people are flocking to Michigan in droves, they will bring it here where there have been very few cases in the northern areas. Im pretty much a hermit anyway and I have no intention of changing now nor letting down my precautions any time soon.

          1. Massinissa

            My parents and I live an hour outside of Atlanta: We don’t leave the house except when one of us leaves the house once every few weeks to get groceries.

        2. marym

          There’s no herd immunity process. To achieve herd immunity in the US without a vaccine 265 million people would need to get sick, recover sufficiently to rejoin the herd, and retain antibodies in sufficient amount and for a sufficient duration to remain immune in the necessary numbers. We don’t even have well-founded predictions of the degree to which any of that would occur, how long it would take, what the death toll would be, or what the economy and society would look like while it was happening.

            1. KLG

              Here is a herd immunity animation I have used in talks to non-scientists about the novel coronavirus. Doesn’t matter where the immunity comes from, post-infection or vaccination, but it takes about a population of about 90% immune for a virus to be stopped. The world is currently in the top left panel, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And as Yves notes below, previous coronaviruses have not been amenable to vaccine development. Nor are we generally immune to a coronavirus for very long, post-infection and recovery. This is a perfect problem, for which a solution may exist. However…

              Crash programs such as the Manhattan Project can work for engineering projects, where the fundamental scientific foundation is understood. Despite the renascence of the “engineering ideal in biology” after a well deserved 100 years in eclipse, there is very little in basic biology that can be engineered, despite what the Big Data mavens in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard and the Broad Institute tell us. A time-dependent system of thousands of nonlinear equations can only be understood at the granular level of each biological system, from the cell to the organism to the ecosystem. Period. This takes time and intelligence. And long-term support of basic biological science by scholars who are committed to truth, not to the partial truths that occasionally make someone rich in a buyout. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 has produced our current helplessness as much as this particular virus, but that is a topic for another time. If we have the time.

              And I thought it was (mostly) climate change that was gonna get us.


              1. fajensen

                Crash programs such as the Manhattan Project can work for engineering projects, where the fundamental scientific foundation is understood.

                Ah, but, The bio-sciences has had 40 years of work with AIDS, setting off Moores Law on gene sequencing (the Human Genome Project done today would be about 10 hours and 5000 USD versus 13 years and 3 Billion USD) and identifying which proteins DNA and RNA will produce.

                Because of the AIDS work, we are in a much better place than we would have been otherwise. Already 4 months into the Covid-19 epidemic researchers have figured out pretty well what the virus does with the immune system – I believe this would likely have taken at least a year to do only a decade ago.

        3. Yves Smith Post author

          Talking about herd immunity as if it were attainable is wrongheaded. There is no evidence that getting coronavirus confers meaningful, lasting immunity. As we’ve had to say far too often, the most common coronavirus, the common cold, confers only six months of immunity. The longest observed immunity with a coronavirus is for MERS, of 34 months. Oh, and 1 in 3 that gets MERS dies of it.

  5. The Rev Kev

    I saw an article in RT which made it sound like they were getting pretty brutal about who deserved ICU beds and who did not-


    Thing is, the numbers are a bit troubling. I have heard that for full herd immunity that you are talking about maybe 85% of the population of a country having to be infected though others say it is only about 60%. Whatever. Now the population of Sweden is reckoned to be about 10,092,200 people which means that 1% of that population would be about 100,922 people.

    It is reported that Sweden has had 32,172 people infected with Coronavirus so if we triple that number for those not diagnosed, that still means that Sweden is at only about 1% of it people infected. Long way to go yet with nothing much to show for it. No wonder the other Nordic countries are treating Sweden as a Coronavirus reservoir.

    1. GM

      It wasn’t just Sweden. At some point in March, doctors in Northern Italy had to leave anyone under 60 out of the full treatment protocol because capacity was limited and they had to focus on those that had a chance to make it.

      It seems to me that a major reason why ICUs has not yet been totally overwhelmed in several other hot spots is that an analogous policy of just letting the hopeless cases die was de facto in place from much earlier on.

      Regarding “herd immunity” — that term is usually really only used in the context of vaccinations. You reach the immunization threshold at 1-1/R_0, where R_0 in this calculation is the uncontrolled R_0. So the exact percentage depends on the uncontrolled R_0. It is quite clear the uncontrolled R_0 is in the 5-6 range rather than the 1.5-2 range in this case.

      But more importantly. in the context of an actual epidemic, reaching that threshold does not mean the virus goes away. It does not go away even with vaccines without a really serious program to eradicate it (measles and mumps are still around).

      The virus will establish itself as a permanent feature of the epidemiological landscape and people will keep getting infected with it.

      That’s a nightmare

      And everything should have been done to avoid it.

      Instead many countries deliberately went for it…

  6. PlutoniumKun

    I would add to this that it seems pretty clear that Europe will open up on a fairly haphazard case by case basis – in other words, those countries that are relatively clear with open up to each other. So whether by design or not, those countries with high and/or increasing numbers of cases will find themselves quarantined. Sweden (along with the UK) is likely to find itself a loser in this game, even if it may be somewaht unfair.

  7. Bob Hertz

    I seem to have missed the initial briefings on this issue. Why is 6 deaths per million considered a scandalously high number? It seems like an utterly trivial number to me. Reading about past pandemics, 6 deaths per million would be considered a great success.

    If America continues have 2,000 deaths per day, then in one year we would have about 700,000 deaths. That is over 2,000 per million, wildly in excess of this piddly 6 per million in Europe.

    Am I off base here? Comments welcome.

    1. Zamfir

      6 per million is the daily number, not the total. The Swedish numbers per million are consistently higher than for the US.

      1. Carolinian

        US deaths per million as of today–287


        And this one is more telling although total cases/million not a very consistent test since it depends on the degree of testing.


        Sweden more or less doubles its Nordic neighbors on this measure but it isn’t clear why Sweden should only be compared only to them unless climate or some genetic factor is considered critical.

        1. Berit

          Sweden’s approach is decided by state-appointed epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, supported till now by former state-epidemiologist Johan Giesecke, as Sweden last week is world leader in deaths pr day. Tegnell is quoted as “not worried”, even when presented with unexpectedly low numbers for possibly acquired “herd immunity” recently measured in Stockholm. Bo Rothstein, political science professor calls it “en katastrof”, sign of misdirected nationalism, as though Sweden in some competitive match is rooting for the home team. The two state-employees are pointing to neighboring Norway, saying second-wave covid-19 overtakes us come fall and winter. Who knows for sure? Many unknown unknowns. But shielding old, weak, sick, vulnerable citizens, heeding sensible, practicable advice learning more every day, I root for my home team. The long frontier to Sweden is guarded. Travel out is permitted, followed by 2 weeks quarantine on reentry. The PMs and ministers of health in Denmark and Norway are taking advice from state-appointed experts and scientists. Then the government decides.

          1. fajensen

            Anders Tegnell, supported till now by former state-epidemiologist Johan Giesecke

            Like Batman and Robin, those two are!

            Johan Giesecke come across exactly like that uncle that every family has. Some person who used to ‘be something’ and is now retired. He (it is always a he) therefore knows everything about everything much better than everyone else, especially those people doing the work, and he can, at length, extrapolate any personal experience onto a generalised solution to every situation, possibly even deriving the merger of quanum mechanics and general relativity from this mornings stool and the newspaper, of corse If Only ‘they’ would ask for it!

            But, In Sweden they cannot see this.

            Due to the culture, most people cannot imagine that someone will just lie straight to their faces and/or pull stuff right out of their ass! We have had ‘a lot of fun’ at my TBTF precisely with people who will do this, this kind of ‘Swedish Expert’ are VERY hard to get rid off – unless they also do harassment! Then it’s only HARD!!

            ‘The Curve has been a-flattening for every single day on TV since March and NOBODY calls them out on the obvious – that it is still exponential and rising every day.

    2. Thomas P

      6 deaths per million per day, I’m afraid. If you look at number of dead adjusted for population growth april 2020 was the deadliest month since januari 2000 in Sweden (bad flu that year).

    3. rd

      Countries like the US and Canada are likely to ahve fewer deaths per day per million because the popluation is less dense and is quite spread out. So it takes time for people to move around and spread the disease. Places like NYC explode, because so many people are at European levels of density.

      1. Paul Boisvert

        rd makes a crucial point. Among several other factors of varying but substantial importance, population density is obviously a very important one. It would make little sense to compare two types of lockdowns’ effect if the locales had much different pop. density. This is one reason Sweden looks even worse at first glance, as its overall pop. density is significantly lower than Norway or Denmark.

        But…one has to also look at internal variations in pop. density. It is virtually certain that most of Sweden’s deaths are in bigger cities of much higher density than Sweden’s average. Stockholm ~ but > Chicago or Boston in that regard. But what is the overall “weighted average” of Sweden’s deaths/mpop in its bigger pop. density cities, vs those of other countries? How about greater metro areas? How about in medium towns? Needs study…

        So, for future policy planning (next winter, next pandemic virus…), serious and involved studies doing multiple regression (and analysis thereof–numbers need interpreting) on many different factors will be needed. Timing, health care access, previous planning, medical resources, pop. density, poverty, institutional eldercare, family structure, detailed partial aspects of lockdowns, economic damage, length thereof, counterfactual political strategies that could have affected/ameliorated all the above, and much more will need to be studied in local detail, not just via national averages. There are very few shortcuts to understanding a phenomenon this complex and novel in the real world. We are still in very early stages yet…

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Density is no excuse. Seoul is as dense as NYC, about a million more people more, and has a heavily-used public transportation system. It has had 2 Covid-19 deaths versus New York City’s 20,000+. Hong Kong has also controlled its infection level even despite a bad start.

        1. rd

          Seoul and the Koreans in Seoul reacted. The US did not.

          However, as it was spreading in Seattle, NYC, etc, there are parts of the US that took quite a while before cases started to show up. That has been part of the problem with the national response – it is viewed by many people as a liberal blue city problem. I live in upstate NY and a number of people believe the whole thing is overblown. I work with a subcontractor in the mid-West who said he hadn’t understood it until he went to a job site they have in NYC – he is now VERY sensitized to taking Covid precautions on job sites. Other people I work with in the rural Mid-West believe it is all overblown and only a serious issue in meatpacking plants. They believe re-opening has to happen now.

          I posted a link below to an article about British Columbia that is flattening the curve. Two interesting things:

          1. Richmond, suburb of Vancouver, has a high Chinese-Canadian population and they started shutting down and wearing masks in late January. Their infection rate ended up being half the infection rate of Vancouver.

          2. They have largely been able to stop new cases outside of Vancouver in the smaller cities and rural areas. Vancoiver still has some new cases.

          1. Rhoro

            Yes, here in Winnipeg whatever masks there were on local shelves in early March had disappeared. A Chinese friend of mine told me they were tipped off early by relatives in Hong Kong. The rest of us looked to the news and word from our federal govt experts, but they were generally incompetent, initially telling us *not* to wear masks. Seems it was really a cynical strategy to prevent a run on masks, and to protect what minimal inventory of N95 masks there was for health-care workers. I couldn’t believe what we were listening to…

  8. Marshall Auerback

    It looks like FT is cherry picking the timing of the deaths per million recorded, caught a peak. But Sweden overall ain’t that great: see the data below for the entire Covid period.

    Our World in Data: 379.3 deaths per million at https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-sweden?country=SWE

    World on Meter: 384 per million at https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-sweden?country=SWE

    This, of course, puts Sweden in the middle of most West European countries; about half the deaths/million as Belgium but more than Norway and certainly more than less severe lockdown Germany.

    These numbers are basically the same as in this article by Winslow Wheeler (a guy who used to do modeling for the Pentagon) in Counterpunch: https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/05/15/do-the-most-severe-lockdowns-coincide-to-the-highest-covid-19-death-rates/

    Of course everybody likes to pick on Sweden; even as they studiously avoid the better success lower severity lockdown countries.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Telegraph has essentially the same story using a different data source. And we’ll know in a week if Sweden’s new death rate leadership is a one-off or the start of a new phase with some legs.

      1. run75441


        You can play with these interactive charts and get whatever stat you prefer. I like looking at confirmed cases and deaths. You may have a different choice. They do this by state. New Deal democrat found this. http://www.cashin.ru/virus/timing/

        Mean while back in Michigan, a judge confirmed Whitmer has the legal authority to regulate stay at home, social distancing, business opening, etc. Since the Repubs have been fostering protests and turn their heads on the Proud Boys showing up at the protests, we have been hanging the resulting spikes and the supremists showing up on their necks. They own it.

    2. Berit

      Belgium is counting every death at home, in hospitals and care homes without regard to covid-19 as cause of death or patient dead, registered with corona-virus.

  9. rd

    Re: Sweden Cordon

    I think Trump is going to be blustering about continuing to shut down borders with other countries. He will need to do that because the US policies mean that it is likely countries like Canada will keep their borders shut to the US, and that would not fit in with the model of American Exceptionalism for us to be the one quarantined.

    1. Winston Smith

      The pressure will be immense for Justin Trudeau when june 21st comes around-the date when the Canada-US border is set to re-open. Several editorials have appeared in the Globe and Mail (ostensibly Canada’s “national” newspaper) urging for the border to stay closed if the US does not appear to come to grips with COVID19-reducing cases and deaths as well as formulating a coherent national plan. The popular sentiment in the country is one of dismay and apprehension at what is perceived as utter chaos south of the border. The tourism industry will wail but it is difficult to know where and how the pressure on the prime minister will tell. The premiers of the provinces will doubtless have their say. New Brunswick has already voiced their desire to keep the border closed this summer. Personally, I would like to be able to visit my father in Quebec.

      1. td

        Ontario, with about 40% of the country’s population, has its main border crossings with Michigan and New York. Both of those states have been hard-hit by the virus and there is very little popular demand to open up for random tourists.

        The main focus in the news is on internal travel to vacation homes since that is a very substantial industry, both in tourist and real estate terms. The towns in cottage country are worried about their limited resources being overwhelmed by a wave of sick people from the major cities.

        There have also been many sad tales from those unfortunates who were stranded in various foreign places when borders closed. An extended vacation loses its appeal when your credit cards are maxed out and your employment is gone.

      2. rd

        I have family in Canada. When I have gone up there over the past couple of years, they have viewed the US with shock and awe. I have not met a single Canadian who is not utterly baffled and bewildered with the election of Trump and the subsequent “policies”. They are watching every move the US makes very carefully. The same people don’t expect the border to be re-opened for a long time and have no interest in it being opened.

        A lot of Canadians travel abroad for vacations. If they do move around this year, it will most likely be in Canada which would help the tourism industry.

        1. Winston Smith

          I think we share a similar story. What I find remarkable is that Canadians of all political stripes are pulling in more or less the same direction. In all the time I have spent in the US, I never imagined I would be cut off from my family in Canada for what may turn out to be quite an extended period of time.

      3. Mickey Hickey

        Visiting your father in Quebec can be considered as essential. There is a two week mandatory self quarantine on entering Canada. You can return to the US if they accept you at any time during the two week self quarantine.. There will be a necessary quarantine in the US if they accept you (are you a US citizen).

        1. Winston Smith

          True enough! I travel to a “remote” region (sparse population) and spend my time in virtual quarantine up there anyway. Will try to find out more. Not a US citizen (yet). I have heard so many arguments for/against as far as canadian permanent residents are concerned. Would definitely do it if the state I live were even remotely in play electoral-wise.

  10. Denis Drew

    Comparing death rates: the article seems to be comparing Sweden’s running death rate with death rates of countries that are just starting to up. After they open back up for a wile we will have a realistic comparison.

  11. cm

    I know I’m going to get blasted here, but I thought the original reason for lockdown was to prevent hospitals from being overrun. In most parts of the United States, hospitals are not being overrun.

    Continuing lockdown is reasonable if people are given a predictable UBI, so that they can plan their lives and continue to have a home/food/etc.

    As things stand now, we have close to 40 million unemployed, with no health insurance, no childcare, and unreliable promises of a stimulus check every now and then. Lockdown is very destructive.

      1. campbeln

        I’ve said for a while now that the “Open up NOW” people are right for the wrong reason; they do need to feed their families and when the government comes in and (IMHO rightly) closes their business/livelihood, that cannot be done without some form of support/UBI/etc. without it resulting in exactly what we are currently seeing in the US.

        This, of course, is a feature, not a bug, of the US approach (as has been said here; reopening is more about stopping unemployment/support than it is about “saving” businesses).

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Lockdown is not destructive. The virus is destructive. As is outlined in the article above, the Swedish economy has done no better than Denmark, which did an early and strict lockdown. Denmark is now opening up and almost virus free, while Sweden has another surge to deal with.

      1. Berit

        Yes, the virus is destructive. So is bad government as demonstrated – tragically – by Donald Trump and Boris Johnsen and neoliberal, laissez-faire brethren here and there. New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardhern’s promt, strongly enforced lockdown has resulted in few deaths and earned the PM strong public support of more than 90 %.

      2. cm

        Lockdown meant 40 million people lost their jobs in the United States. They lost their health insurance. If things remain the way they are ($1200 every few months or so with no guarantees) a lot of people will lose their homes.

        Europe has a social support system. United States does not. In the US, lockdown is very destructive for those who lost their jobs.

        1. aleph_0

          I think you’ll find that even if you didn’t lockdown, the virus would have destroyed almost all of those 40 million jobs. That’s the message of Sweden. It was never a tradeoff of economy vs. lockdown; the virus is what destroyed the economy. The extra job loss from the lockdown is marginal.

        2. Massinissa

          The answer to that would be TO GET A SOCIAL SUPPORT SYSTEM. Something as simple as a temporary UBI would work. To say that “We don’t have a social support system, so we should open the economy back up so that *maybe* we will stop hemorrhaging job losses” (I say maybe because even if businesses reopen there’s no guarantee of enough customers returning to keep the businesses solvent, which is pretty much what’s happening in Sweden: The economy is ‘open’ but people aren’t going shopping or going to restaurants) is the wrong answer. It also doesn’t help the people who have already lost their jobs and likely cannot find more.

        3. run75441


          Once they lose their jobs they can apply for Medicaid. Medicaid does not care what you made ytd. They look at your current salary sans the $600.

          The house is a different matter although banks can wait for one year too and demand their pound of flesh.

      3. Bsoder

        To be clear getting infected and getting sick or dying is destructive and without a vaccine you will eventually get infected and sick or die. It’s all about getting infected, and all the R₀ Rt, etc., numbers are meaningless. This disease is has specific risk factors and is very local. Being locked down only delayed when you could be infected not if.

    2. td

      It took a couple of months of a very porous lockdown to flatten case numbers. It will take a couple of months of a fragmented reopening to see if the curve takes off again since the virus needs to have a chance to spread. A week or so of open barber shops and beach parties is not enough to indicate anything except that the whole issue is now political.

      I will not fire my volley until late July, when there is some indication of the actual trend. The disease is real and dangerous but most of the U.S. population has no ability to withstand a lengthy period of no income and no health care. Whatever is done, it will be the wrong move for a lot of people.

      1. Bsoder

        There is no reason for people not to have income or healthcare that is political. Healthcare can always be obtained – one might have to file bankruptcy but one might find that’s a good choice.

      2. rd

        The United States has chosen to make health care optional and unaffordable. Its not an issue the rest of the developed world has – they solved the challenge decades ago.

        We will see where we stand mid-July. We will have Memorial Day, July 4, and plenty of picnic time.

    3. rd

      It also gives time for the medical community to figure out how to treat it. they are making some progress, but don’t have magic bullets yet, despite the happy talk from the White House.

      Eventually most people will get it unless a vaccine comes first. However, if they have figured out how to treat it, then it might just become like the seasonal flu for mortality and serious illness. However, if everybody gets it in the first 6 months, then the hospitals are overwhelmed by patients that the doctors don’t know how to treat. That is when you get high mortality rates, and, just as importantly, potential long-term damage to lungs and organs for many more people. If there isn’t a vaccine, it would be nice if the mortality and long-term damage could be reduced by an order of magnitude by the medical system.

    4. GM

      Whoever was saying that the goal of lockdowns is to “flatten the curve” was either deliberately BSing or not knowing what they’re talking about.

      There is only ever one viable approach when dealing with a new virus — contain and then eliminate.

      After that you can work on vaccines and treatments in peace.

      You do containment before the virus has had a chance to spread widely. In this case that meant shutting down all international travel and borders somewhere around the 25th of January and launching massive testing efforts to find the forming clusters and then isolate them.

      Obviously, that was not done, because it would have oh-so-horrible for the economy, only for it to be enforced on everyone by the virus a couple months later at an orders-of-magnitude larger cost, both in economic terms and in terms of lives.

      Once containment has failed, then you have to use lockdowns, but, again, serious ones that will accomplish the goal of clearing the virus, not the half-assed approaches many countries took that both destroyed the economy and did little to stop the virus.

      China did a serious lockdown. Pretty much nobody else did. Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, and several others did not reach the point of needing one. Those who needed one but did not implement it will suffer the consequences for decades to come.

      “Flattening of the curve” only ever made sense as a stepping stone towards actual containment.

      On its own it is a red herring. Some people did the calculation back in late February, you can do it too, it is not especially complicated — if we are to stay under ICU capacity until everyone has gotten the disease, it will take literally decades given how COVID clogs ICUs with patients staying there for many weeks. And that calculation ignores the fact that we would have run out of doctors and nurses long before that, within 12-18 months at most, given how fast they have been dropping with it themselves. It also ignores the fact that if you end up in the ICU to begin with you are more likely to exit it in a body bag headed towards the incinerator than alive, i.e. even “flattening of the curve” guaranteed many millions dead if it was a flattening towards “herd immunity” instead of flattening towards containment.

  12. GeorgeNYC

    I cannot recall where I read this (maybe here) but an English commenter said something to the effect of “The government can provide unemployment assistance but it cannot raise the dead”. Pretty much sums up the either/or argument. There are not really two sides to the argument. We really need to start asking more fundamental questions about what is “money” and what is “wealth” before we start comparing them to death.

  13. Steve

    It would seem that the true measure of lockdown approaches can’t be known until the locked-down countries ride out the full “curve”, and excess death rates are compared between all countries in retrospect.

    It seems definitive conclusions can’t yet be drawn, as alarming as it may be to see a country moving more quickly through the curve.

    1. Stuart R Harper

      This line of thought is disingenuous. Saying we can’t make judgments until we’re months down the line doesn’t do service to the years of research and field study epidemiologist have done in the 10s to 100s of previous virus outbreaks. The oft quoted R-factor speaks to the hard won knowledge that informs good science and good decision making. Countries that have defer’d to science, have seen better outcomes, no matter the type of society.

      “Herd Immunologists” are clearly not following science and a perusal of the outbreak numbers back that up.

  14. VietnamVet

    If everyone gets the Wuhan Coronavirus, this will basically throw the USA into the third world. Isolated from the virus free nations. Like HIV it will become endemic killing millions but much more contagious and unavoidable. The elderly and those with comorbidities will die off, a percentage of the survivors will have secondary long term illnesses. Healthcare will be unaffordable. Everyone except plutocrats will be over their heads in debt. Homes lost. Demand will plummet. Supply will be automated if it can be. Together with climate change (dams bursting, cyclones, and rising seas) infrastructure will collapse.

    The pandemic demonstrates that the USA, Russia, UK and Sweden are failed states. Future costs will be extraordinarily more expensive than tackling the problems now. But this requires the hoarded wealth. How do we get a government to restart working for its people? If not, everybody is alone, on their own, unless they are living in a survivable community.

  15. Robert Dudek

    I find the comparison of these two charts interesting…

    I refer to the Active Cases graph in Sweden and Denmark.


    Denmark’s population is roughly 59% of Sweden’s, but compare the peaks on the Active Cases graph. Denmark’s peak was roughly 3,800 active cases on April 11th. Since then it has dropped to less than 1,000, despite the country coming out of lockdown (carefully) over the last few weeks.

    Sweden’s graph should be of concern: active cases are still rising and are over 23,000 currently – more than 3 times per capita of Denmark’s peak.

    That said, Swedes have enjoyed a more or less normal life during this crisis, and I regard that as a real benefit to their approach. But I don’t think it makes up for the cost that society will incur in terms of lives lost and eventually an economy that will be outperformed by their early lockdown neighbours such as Denmark and Norway.

    1. JK

      The numbers of recovered cases are not reported centrally in sweden. So therefore you cannot rely on them as an indicator of current covid activity.

      That said, Swedes have enjoyed a more or less normal life during this crisis, and I regard that as a real benefit to their approach. But I don’t think it makes up for the cost that society will incur in terms of lives lost and eventually an economy that will be outperformed by their early lockdown neighbours such as Denmark and Norway.

      Although there are few rumblings about current situation in swedish media, I’m not sure what could trigger an change of strategy.
      For the political class it can only cause problems. Little electorial gains to make.
      All political parties agreed to the chosen strategy. None of the vocally complained about it when it was instituted.
      Running a hard lockdown at this stage, will certainly trigger a harsh discussion about unnessary “lost lives”.

      There has been little or no debate in swedish parliament about the strategy. But then constitutionally swedish goverment is different from most countries , a minister cannot direct or demand action of certain authorities . See

      Interestingly, the vocabulary also changed, “authorities” became “expert authorities” over one night. A convenient change, it feels its almost designed, to shift blame, or avoiding responsibility.

  16. Sound of the Suburbs

    Sweden’s “anywheres” begin to realise their response to the coronavirus may have some drawbacks.

    Sweden’s “somewheres” are not that bothered about international travel.
    Who cares about border restrictions anyway?

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