Sunday, April 12, 2020

No lockdown in Sweden

by Jeff Jacoby

DID SWEDEN BLUNDER? Or did everyone else?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the world's governments have gone to unheard-of lengths to keep people apart and try to slow the spread of the virus. Schools and businesses have been shuttered, public gatherings banned, construction projects halted, restaurants darkened, air travel grounded, borders locked. Tens of millions of "nonessential" workers have been furloughed or laid off. In some jurisdictions, people are forbidden to leave their homes except for food or essentials. Leaders worldwide have made the wrenching decision to incur a devastating economic recession in order to prevent a devastating death toll.

But not in Sweden.

In Scandinavia's most populous nation, life has continued more or less normally. Public gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Grade schools and day care are still open. So are parks, restaurants, stores. Streets are still full of people. Swedish health officials have advised residents older than 70 to stay home and emphasized the importance of hand washing. But unlike elsewhere, their public messaging has not reflected frantic desperation.

Why has Sweden adopted an approach so different from other nations'? Not because the country has been untouched by COVID-19. Far from it: As of Tuesday, it had recorded 7,693 confirmed cases and 591 deaths. Sweden's coronavirus death rate (fatalities per million residents) is 59 — markedly higher than that in the other Scandinavian countries, all of which are enforcing stiff social-distancing restrictions. Then again, Sweden's infection and death rates are far lower than in Switzerland, a country of comparable population. Switzerland is in lockdown. Yet three times as many infections have been confirmed, and the death rate is 94.

Such widely divergent results help explain why Sweden's health authorities, led by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, have charted a different course. Their goal has been to keep sickness rates low enough that hospitals aren't overrun, without taking a sledgehammer to the economy and throwing vast numbers of people out of work — because unemployment, too, correlates with increased mortality.

Like epidemiologists everywhere, Tegnell is operating in uncharted territory and making projections on the basis of mathematical models. But scientists are using different models and coming to conflicting conclusions. In Britain, researchers at Imperial College London calculated last month that without draconian social distancing measures, as many as 250,000 UK residents might die. A few days later, scientists at Oxford, working from a different model, reported that more than two-thirds of the British population might already have been infected without knowing it — implying that widespread resistance to the virus was already accumulating through "herd immunity."

No one knows yet which conclusion will turn out to be right. Most governments have opted for extreme restrictions, and the severe economic pain they entail, in hopes of keeping deaths from spiking uncontrollably. Sweden's health officials, who are granted considerable autonomy under Swedish law, have so far resisted that approach. Tegnell isn't dogmatic about his position — in a BBC interview, he acknowledged "self-doubt" and said he is "more than prepared" to switch gears if developments warrant.

Swedish culture is highly trusting, but Swedes aren't being asked to take their government's policy on faith. "Hospital data is published all the time, so Sweden's 'experiment' is being conducted in the open," writes Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph. "Every time a patient is admitted, the data is updated on a COVID-19 live website. . . . If Tegnell's analysis proves wrong, the public will be able to see it unravel on his dashboard."

Critics of the strategy haven't been shy. One Swedish epidemiologist called it "a huge experiment" that could "crazily" wrong. An immunologist at the prestigious Karolinska Institute warned that the policy "is leading us to disaster." Some lawmakers are proposing tighter coronavirus restrictions. At the same time, other Swedes have strongly defended the non-lockdown policy — including Johan Giesecke, another Karolinska scientist and author of a textbook on infectious disease epidemiology.

So did Sweden blunder? Or did everyone else?

All we can say at this point is that it's too soon to be sure. But by marching to the beat of its own drummer, Sweden is making it possible for scientists to evaluate competing strategies in real time. However the experiment turns out, we'll all have a clearer idea about the best way to fight pandemics in the future. Sweden's anomalous approach may succeed or it may fail. Either way, mankind stands to gain.



Projected death toll dramatically lowered after anti-malaria drug approved

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning today issued the following statement reacting to the IHME’s death toll projections being lowered to 60,415 from 81,766:

“Projections on the number of cases of COVID-19 are far less important than the actual deaths from the China-originated virus.  Now, the most influential projection of future deaths from the disease has lowered that guess again. Just one week ago on April 1, the death projection was 93,651, it was lowered on April 4 to 81,766 and just one week into April the projection is now at 60,415.

“While the public health care bureaucrats will attribute the precipitous drop in the all-important death projections to social distancing, the model assumed that social distancing would be implemented in its projections.

“What has significantly changed in the past week was President Trump’s successfully convincing the Food and Drug Administration to allow the anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine  and other antivirals to be prescribed to treat the disease on March 31.  While correlation does not necessarily mean causation, it is significant that doctors across the nation have been given the go-ahead to use this treatment and many are reporting success that should not be discounted.  Those governors who are restricting the use of this medicine need to reevaluate that political decision in order to help save as many of the lives of their constituents as possible.

“President Trump has put the health of Americans first and has risked his economic legacy to protect American lives. Now, as the death projections continue to collapse, Americans for Limited Government urge the country to come behind President Trump as he looks toward restarting the economy. The great news that we are winning the war against the COVID-19 virus will hopefully lead to our economy re-opening around the country not suffering as a hot spot by May 1.”



'Social Justice' in a Pandemic

America is in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic meltdown caused by shutting everything down. It’s affecting every American in some way, and we’ll need to unite to get through it. The worst may be yet to come.

“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams over the weekend. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. Only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”

Unfortunately, unity is not exactly this nation’s strong suit in recent years. Some are trying to fit the round peg of COVID-19 into the square hole of social justice.

“COVID deaths are disproportionately spiking in Black + Brown communities,” complained Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Why? Because the chronic toll of redlining, environmental racism, wealth gap, etc. ARE underlying health conditions. Inequality is a comorbidity. COVID relief should be drafted with a lens of reparations.”

This is, of course, in line with the Democrats’ view that the current crisis is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” But it’s also an extension of their view that America is such a racist backwater that even equal-opportunity viruses actually target minorities.

It does seem to be true that, at least in some areas, blacks are contracting and dying of COVID-19 at a higher rate. According to ProPublica, “As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.”

But the numbers don’t tell the whole tale. In fact, ProPublica’s story inadvertently draws attention to something that might be a bigger factor than race. “Louisiana has not published case breakdowns by race, but 40% of the state’s deaths have happened in Orleans Parish, where the majority of residents are black.”

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, residents of New Orleans declined to observe evacuation orders, evidently believing that, no matter what transpired, government would come to their aid — as it does on a daily basis. The resulting death toll there was terrible.

Could it be that the inner-city communities around the country — where populations disproportionately depend on government checks, government food stamps, and government housing — are simply not complying with warnings or protocols regarding the current pandemic? In other words, rather than a failure of social justice, is it a failure to abide by social distancing?

It’s beyond troubling that when so many Americans of every color are legitimately suffering, Democrats are so focused on scoring cheap political points by dividing us.



Japan too wants to bring back some manufacturing from China

Coronavirus is causing Japan to reconsider depending on China for its supply and manufacturing base, reports the Japan Times.

Japan has earmarked ¥243.5 billion of its record economic support package to help manufacturers shift production out of China as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains between the major trading partners.
The extra budget, compiled to offset the devastating effects of the pandemic, includes ¥220 billion for companies shifting production back to Japan and ¥23.5 billion for those seeking to move production to other countries, according to details posted online.

It's not a huge amount of money yet but the trend it bucks is important. Japan's relationship with China has gotten complicated over the past few years. They're longtime rivals but China has made itself Japan's top trade partner while, at the same time, threatening Japan's sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands just this week. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought warmer relations with China despite this. But the pandemic is forcing his hand. It's unwise for any nation to depend on communist China too much for anything, given its habit of lying about important things.

Abe could have reacted to the pandemic a bit quicker.

[M]any in Japan are inclined to blame China for mishandling the early stages of the outbreak and Abe for not blocking visitors from all of China sooner. Until last month, only visitors from Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, and one other province had been banned.
Advantage...Trump. Who, by the way, wanted U.S. firms to start leaving China well before the COVID outbreak. Countries that can afford to leave China, will.

Captain Obvious prediction: Taiwan will end up benefiting from some of the coming avalanche of divestment from the mainland. Taiwan is free and transparent, its legal system is predictable, and it has handled the COVID pandemic very well. Because of this, its economy may rebound ahead of others. It also enjoys a defense pact with the United States, which has a decades-long defense pact with Japan.




Drill, baby, drill: Trump signs executive order encouraging mining for minerals on the moon (Washington Examiner)

Coronavirus was spreading in New York City weeks before first case, compounding the mayor's lackluster response (New York Post)

Kansas legislature cites constitutional rights in rescinding governor's limit on religious gatherings (Washington Examiner)

"We want to have some common approach to this across the state": Arkansas blocks mayors from implementing stay-at-home orders (The Daily Wire)

Nothing to see here... Official Chinese newspaper reports chance of 10,000-20,000 new cases in Wuhan. It's quickly deleted. (The Daily Wire)

Taiwan shows up China, sending hard-hit countries lifesaving coronavirus supplies (Fox News)

Tone-deaf celebrities organize major benefit for China-complicit WHO (The Federalist)

Policy: How Woodrow Wilson let flu deaths go viral in the Great War (RealClearInvestigations)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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