Friday, August 07, 2020

Sweden suffers record economic plunge despite lighter lockdown

What is not mentioned below is that Sweden probably had both its stage 1 and stage 2 infection episodes all at once -- leaving very few people for the virus to infect.

Another way of saying that is that Sweden is probably pretty close to herd immunity -- meaning that almost all those who were significantly susceptible to the virus have had contact with it but not been infected. And because they were not infected they will not pass it on. So even the living remainder of those people who are seriously susceptible will not get it.

That puts them miles ahead of any other nation.. There is at the moment an element of speculation in that because many of the uninfected probably have a a strong natural immunity that leaves no trace of contact with the virus -- even though there was contact. Time will tell

Sweden’s light-touch lockdown failed to spare its economy from a historic plunge in GDP as Covid-19 triggered a collapse in exports and spending.

Output contracted by a record 8.6pc in the second quarter compared with the previous three months, but the Nordic nation suffered a much smaller hit than many other European economies.

Despite some of the most relaxed Covid-19 restrictions in the world, its exporters were hit by tumbling global demand and household spending slumped as the virus struck.

“The economic crunch over the first half of the year is in a different league entirely to the horror shows elsewhere in Europe,” said David Oxley at Capital Economics.

It is “still likely to be among the best of a bad bunch this year”, he said, pointing to signs of a rebound at the start of the third quarter.

While the hit to GDP was lower than the 12pc slump in the eurozone in the second quarter, Sweden's Nordic neighbours have managed to avoid both a health and economic crisis.

The figures come amid declining support in Sweden for the strategy not to use a mandatory strict lockdown to contain the virus. The controversial approach relied on voluntary social distancing, bans on large gatherings, care home restrictions and table service in bars and restaurants.

Sweden has recorded almost 6,000 Covid deaths compared with about 250 in Norway and just over 600 in Denmark, giving it one of the world's highest death rates.

Prime minister Stefan Löfven has launched an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. “We have thousands of dead. Now the question is how Sweden should change, not if,” he admitted when announcing the probe in late June.

Torbjörn Isaksson, chief analyst at Nordea Markets, warned that it was “too early to evaluate how different strategies to deal with Covid-19 have affected the economies”.

“Swedish GDP contracted much less in the first half of the year than for instance in the euro area, while some of our Nordic neighbours probably fared better than Sweden,” he said.

The OECD has predicted that Sweden will suffer a 6.7pc plunge in GDP this year if there is only one significant Covid wave. Norway and Denmark expect a smaller 6pc and 5.8pc hit while also containing the virus.

There is also growing evidence that stemming the health crisis is the key to strong recoveries, with life returning to relative normality in countries that successfully stemmed outbreaks.

Households could slam the brakes on consumption if they fear the virus is surging. Worried consumers in the US, for example, have curbed spending as cases surge, while some states have been forced to roll back reopenings. The same could happen in Europe if fears of a second wave on the Continent are realised.

For now, however, the recovery in Sweden is taking shape. Neal Kilbane at Oxford Economics said the Swedish economy had bottomed out and was starting to recover.

“Private sector production ended four consecutive months of decline by expanding by 0.7pc month-on-month in June, while July’s composite PMI increased above 50 and into expansionary territory for the first time since February,” he said.

Sweden will avoid the collapse in output seen in much of Europe, but its Nordic neighbours have shown that containing the virus does not necessarily trigger economic collapse.



What We Know Now About Hydroxychloroquine to Treat COVID-19

Early in health officials’ response to the pandemic, one drug offered hope of a safe, widely available, and cheap therapeutic that would break the death grip that COVID-19 held on the world.

However, after its promised efficacy didn’t materialize in large, statistically significant numbers, enthusiasm for the drug, hydroxychloroquine, quickly waned. Why, then, has it made its way back into the headlines?

When it was first suggested that hydroxychloroquine may be an effective antiviral against the new coronavirus, which scientists call SARS-CoV-2, the U.S. government purchased and delivered the drug by the millions of doses even before research could prove its efficacy.

At the time, what scarce data was available suggested it would work, and waiting much longer would’ve been unethical. After all, the drug has a decadeslong history of use to treat malaria.

But with those millions of doses being administered, clinicians found only mixed results. Some, as in the early French trial, found tremendous success, while many others found no clinical benefit.

Thus, the buzz surrounding hydroxychloroquine began to die down and it nearly was forgotten in the news cycle, until early July when the results of 2,500-person study were published by the Henry Ford COVID-19 Task Force.

That study found that among those who received hydroxychloroquine, the mortality was 13.5%. This compares to those who received none of the studied drugs, among whom the mortality was 26.4%.

The group of patients who received hydroxychloroquine alone suffered about half the mortality of the baseline group. Note that this is different from saying hydroxychloroquine “was responsible for reducing mortality by half.”

The Ford study is a retrospective observational study, which means it looks back on cases that already have happened. These studies often can gather a large amount of data, but they tell only correlation rather than causation. Although it’s a positive study for the drug, it adds to a growing body of mixed results.

To tell definitively whether hydroxychloroquine is responsible for the reduction in mortality, what’s required is a randomized controlled trial. That is, a prospective study designed to test the direct effect of a drug or intervention.

One such randomized controlled trial was published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine, which also put hydroxychloroquine back in the news. The study, of 507 patients with confirmed COVID-19, found there was no significant difference in clinical outcome with the addition of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin.

Patients included in this study were hospitalized but did not require more than four liters of supplemental oxygen. This means that the condition of the patients studied was of relatively low severity, and that treatment with hydroxychloroquine began earlier on in the course of the disease.

Therefore, this study was intended to test the conditions for which hydroxychloroquine has been proposed to be used and found it to have no clinical benefit over the “standard of care.”

But the researchers noted several limitations to their study. For instance, the study was not blinded, which could have skewed the results, and there was difficulty with adherence to the treatment regimen, which could have affected the outcomes.

Furthermore, hydroxychloroquine with or without azithromycin was compared to the “standard of care,” which at the time of the study, in March, was not very standard. Physicians were free to use other drugs such as steroids, immunomodulators, or other antibiotics.

So hydroxychloroquine in this study did no better than other drugs, but it is difficult to say that hydroxychloroquine had zero effect when its effect may have been matched or covered up by other drugs considered “standard of care” at the time.

As if it weren’t already confusing enough, few studies have included zinc as part of the treatment regimen along with hydroxychloroquine. Zinc is an essential mineral that is important for immune function, and may have some direct antiviral properties that some researchers propose would be amplified when used in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine.

Researchers at New York University Langone Health, a medical center, began adding zinc to their treatment plans for COVID-19 patients. In a study of 932 patient cases, the medical center found that the addition of zinc to hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin was associated with a decrease in mortality in patients who were not admitted to the intensive care unit.

Because this also was a retrospective study, it can tell only correlation and not causation.

That said, it’s a promising result that suggests hydroxychloroquine might need supplemental zinc to be fully effective. This warrants further investigation.

Few published results exist from studies that include zinc, and fewer if any results exist from a clinical trial of zinc with hydroxychloroquine. But several studies of this drug combination are in progress, some of which are expected to conclude as late as next year.

All of this is to say that the science is not yet settled. It is an open question as to whether hydroxychloroquine in combination with any number of other drugs may have a beneficial effect on the disease course of COVID-19.

A great deal of evidence says it doesn’t work, but enough evidence says hydroxychloroquine does work that it would be irresponsible to write it off completely at this time, especially in combination with other drugs. In fact, researchers around the world are conducting hundreds of trials with hydroxychloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine is dominating the news again for many reasons, not the least of which is that results from several important studies recently have been released. But the angst, the controversy, and cynical politicking around the drug is completely unwarranted.

We don’t know for certain if, and in what manner, hydroxychloroquine works. We should trust clinicians to review the data for themselves, and it would behoove the media, the politicians, and the public to let the science play out.



Here's What Happened When a Reporter Experimented with Mail-In Ballots

Because of the Wuhan coronavirus, many states are opting to vote by mail. The goal is to keep people from flocking to the polls and creating large crowds. Conservatives have frequently talked about the issue of voter fraud and the potential for votes to become lost or stolen.

A reporter from WRDW in Pennsylvania decided to conduct an experiment. The reporter's team set up a PO Box and mailed numerous sets of fake ballots all across Philadelphia. The idea was to simulate people returning ballots to the local election office. They initially mailed 100 mock ballots. Two days later, they mailed another 100 ballots. The PO box was checked a week later.

When the reporter opened up the PO box, there was a slip saying the box owner had to pick up the mail from behind the counter. When the reporter went to retrieve the mail, the postmaster told him there was nothing back there.

"I don't see anything there for you," the woman behind the counter said.

The reporter eventually talked to a manager, explained what they were doing and suddenly she found a box of mock ballots that were "somewhere else."

As the reporter went through the mail, it was discovered they obtained two pieces of someone else's mail, including a birthday card.

The worst part: 21 percent of all the mock ballots hadn't materialized after four days. The first batch, which had been sent out a week prior, also had some ballots missing.

"So out of our 100 ballots, 97 arrived, which sounds pretty good, unless you consider the fact that means that three people that tried to vote by mail in our mock election were, in fact, disenfranchised by mail," the reporter stated.

Three percent may not sound like a lot, but it can be pivotal, especially when elections are close.

The other issue: 24 states allow voters to request ballots less than a week before the election, meaning they're not going to make it back in time to be counted.

And when the reporter talked with people in the community, quite a few shared concerns about their ballots "getting lost in the mail."

This is proof that in-person voting must happen and the integrity of the election is at stake. Democrats say they want proof, here it is. There's not much more solid evidence than this experiment. If it's happening in one city, it's almost guaranteed to be happening in places across the nation.



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1 comment:

ScienceABC123 said...

The US mail is normally very convenient, but anyone who has had a bill payment lost in the mail knows how inconvenient it is to have to: pay your bank to cancel a lost check, and make a late payment on a bill with an added late charge. I would never trust something as important as voting to the US mail.