Sweden No-Lockdown Plan a Mistake

The architect of the plan admits he was wrong.

Business Insider (“The architect of Sweden’s no-lockdown plan suggested the strategy was a mistake based on what we now know about the coronavirus“):

The scientist behind Sweden’s controversial no-lockdown coronavirus strategy has said he would have recommended tighter restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus if he knew what he now knew about the illness.

The country has been under heavy scrutiny for its approach to the coronavirus, which largely relied on asking people to observe social distancing while they can still go to restaurants, bars, shops, parks, and schools.

Only a handful of rules were actually enforced, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and a ban on visitors to elderly care homes.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, told Swedish radio station Sveriges Radio on Wednesday that while the country would have implemented tougher restrictions, they would still likely not have been as strict as in many countries.

“If we were to encounter the same illness with the same knowledge that we have today, I think our response would land somewhere in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell said, according to Bloomberg.

“Clearly, there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,” he added.

According to the Worldometers data, Sweden has lost 4,542 to the virus, a rate of 450 per million population. Only Belgium, the UK, Spain, and Italy have worse numbers among significant countries. Their Scandinavian neighbors, Denmark and Norway, had 100 and 44 deaths/million, respectively.

Science advances by learning from and admitting mistakes. Still, the fact that the leading epidemiologists in every other developed country came to the opposite conclusion makes it difficult to chalk this up to hindsight.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Europe, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. inhumans99 says:

    Kevin Drum has a follow-up to his post about this very subject and now the guy says his words have been spun pretty hard and is back-tracking saying they could have done better when it comes to nursing homes (which is like pointing out that water is wet, as everyone including the U.S. could have done better when it comes to nursing homes) but otherwise they are fine with the strategy (such as it is) that they deployed to fight/slow down the virus.

    Sigh, it would have been nice if he was fine admitting to a mistake. If every doctor or politician becomes like Trump and refuses to admit they made any mistakes we will continue to meander through this pandemic as more people die on a daily basis in the background of society trying to re-open.

    7
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Sweden was held up as the shining example of an alternative strategy and not only did it fail to keep citizens safe, the country has taken a similar economic hit to those countries that pursued an aggressive lock down policy. Doubt the US promoters of the Swedish plan will apologize.

    Ironic that the interest groups in the US that normally hate on Scandinavian social policy, loved it when it came to Covid-19

    11
  3. Lounsbury says:

    @inhumans99: I found his justifications quite amusng in a sour fashion. It was rather like hearing a French general saying the Maginot strategy was perfect except for the Ardennes….

    5
  4. Kathy says:

    Everyone would have done things differently if they’d known then what they know now.

    China bears a great deal of responsibility for their attempt to play down the epidemic in Wuhan, and for withholding information from the WHO. They knew almost right from the start that SARS-CoV2 was transmitted person-to-person. This was not failure to act on facts as yet unknown, this was deliberate cover-up, and China should suffer consequences from this.

    That said, even Chinese authorities did not know, until fairly late, that presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission was going on. That was what allowed this disease to grow as fast as it did and as widely as it did. Early advice was to stay away from people showing any symptoms of respiratory infection. That was insufficient. If we’d known about the real transmission risks, distancing, face masks, and even lock down would have been implemented earlier, to much greater effect.

    Next time, we need to assume the worst and act accordingly. No one will back a lock down over a few cases, true, but measures like distancing and masks should be enacted at once, including a ban on gatherings of more than ten people or so. We also learned not to downplay it (though we knew that already), and to implement testing and tracing immediately, with mandatory isolation of infected and suspected carriers.

    there will no doubt be rending of garments and howls of protests over such measures, but they will spare us the wholesale death and economic harm we’re experiencing now. Besides, measures can be adjusted as we learn about the latest epidemic. It would be far better to ban gatherings and restrict capacity in restaurants, theaters, sporting events, etc. and then relax the restrictions a few weeks later, than to do little at first and then have to impose a near total ban or lock down.

    We did not learn the right lessons from SARS and the H1N1 flu. We have no excuse for the next time. See how Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, who did learn from SARS, managed to deal with SARS-CoV2.

    10
  5. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Quite ironic. Thanks for pointing this out.

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @inhumans99: I agree with your assessment about admitting to mistakes, buy given a world where American style litigiousness is becoming more common, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect people to admit to mistakes in which culpability and liability for damages will attach.

  7. steve says:

    IIRC they also pulled kids under 14 out of school, so it was really lockdown lite. It looks like they will still have bad economic effects plus a higher death rate. (Its more filling and it doesnt taste great either.) That said, the people in Sweden seem to have rallied behind the plan. It may be more sustainable. If we have a big second outbreak in the fall I suspect many states wont be able or willing to shutdown again.

    Steve

    5
  8. Jen says:

    They knew almost right from the start that SARS-CoV2 was transmitted person-to-person. This was not failure to act on facts as yet unknown, this was deliberate cover-up, and China should suffer consequences from this.

    That said, even Chinese authorities did not know, until fairly late, that presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission was going on.

    The quote above from Kathy highlights two interesting points that are important takeaways from this. One, the Chinese *had* to have known person-to-person transmission was occurring. And, we should have realized how deeply problematic this virus was when China shut down their entire economy to manage the spread. THAT should have put the world on alert.

    The second point about asymptomatic transmission is true but odd to me. I’m not remotely an epidemiologist, but to me, asymptomatic transmission was the only logical explanation to the rapid spread. It HAD to be transmitted by people not showing signs. Why the evidence for this wasn’t sought out sooner is baffling to me.

    Sweden made a calculated decision to do things differently and it didn’t pan out as expected. That decision gives us more information and more data. Let’s use that experience to inform future progress.

    The biggest unanswered question–one that will have profound ramifications for the future–is that of acquired immunity. Do recovered people have immunity, and if so for how long does that immunity last? This is clearly critical and if China wants to claw back from the hole it dug for itself by botching the initial response, it can demonstrate radical transparency on whatever it discovers in that area.

    5
  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jen:

    The second point about asymptomatic transmission is true but odd to me. I’m not remotely an epidemiologist, but to me, asymptomatic transmission was the only logical explanation to the rapid spread. It HAD to be transmitted by people not showing signs. Why the evidence for this wasn’t sought out sooner is baffling to me.

    There’s research out now indicating that past exposure to other coronaviruses offers partial protection against COVID19.

    Not yet addressed: what is the venn diagram of people with past coronavirus exposure and the asymptomatic carriers?

    3
  10. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    It HAD to be transmitted by people not showing signs. Why the evidence for this wasn’t sought out sooner is baffling to me.

    Gathering tangible evidence takes time, and making sure of what facts the evidence represents takes even more time.

    My thinking goes as follows:

    Transmission person-to-person by casual contact is very dangerous, and has the potential to spread the new pathogen widely. asymptomatic transmission makes this even worse, because one cannot even attempt to avoid those infected. therefore until we know different, we should distance and wear masks.

    This is hindsight. But the benefit of hindsight is that one can apply it moving forward. What’s also hindsight is that we cannot wait to determine how a pathogen spreads to take precautions against it. We must take precautions right away. If we overreact, we won’t spread the disease more. There may be some economic damage, but nowhere near as much as having to lock down large parts of the economy for weeks or months.

    1
  11. Slugger says:

    I would like to see some blue-ribbon panel of dispassionate expert review the way in which this problem was handled around the world. However, the likelihood of this happening is small. Trump is not the only politician who thinks that CYA is the number one priority. Somehow we citizens need to create a world where truth is the main object of loyalty not partisanship. I don’t know how this can be achieved.

    2
  12. Barry says:

    @Kathy: “China bears a great deal of responsibility for their attempt to play down the epidemic in Wuhan, and for withholding information from the WHO. They knew almost right from the start that SARS-CoV2 was transmitted person-to-person. This was not failure to act on facts as yet unknown, this was deliberate cover-up, and China should suffer consequences from this.”

    From everything I’ve seen (you might have seen other stuff), this probably costs us 2-3 weeks. By the end of January, things were out, including with the assistance of the Chinese government.

    We lost February, March and April (and really, May) due to Trump.

    Punish him and his accomplices first, please.
    Then we’ll talk about China.

    5
  13. Kathy says:

    @Slugger:

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a good model for this type of review is the air accident investigation model. What’s important is determining, as far as possible, causes, contributing factors, what worked, what didn’t, where time was lost, where it was gained, etc. and how to prevent a similar result next time. What’s not important is whose fault it was.

    @Barry:

    Punish him and his accomplices first, please.
    Then we’ll talk about China.

    Trump was, at best, incredibly negligent in his early response, and kept right on being negligent as the corpses piled up. That is really bad, and perhaps cause for a second impeachment (which, unfortunately, would fare no better than the first).

    But as regards China and Trump: six of one, a half dozen of the other.

    I wonder, though, if El PITO can be sued for wrongful death by the survivors of those who followed his advice regarding dealing with the virus?

    3
  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Rand Paul, while Fauci was testifying to Congress, went on a rant and scolded us that we should be more like Sweden.
    Think he will admit he was wrong?

    5
  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Think he (Rand Paul) will admit he was wrong?

    Gawd Daryl, some days you just crack me up.

    5
  16. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “Gawd Daryl, some days you just crack me up.”

    That wasn’t Daryl. That was his other brother Daryl.

    7
  17. Kathy says:

    Officially, Mexico was supposed to be at peak SARS-CoV2 infections by mid May. In reality, cases are rising now more than two weeks ago. Some peak. But gradual reopening is underway.

    So I’m seriously considering taking two weeks vacation from Jun 17th to Jun 30th, so I can lock down at home during the real peak.

    Besides, it would be a better use of my time to finish writing “Ours,” and then perhaps make a beginning with another of the stories I’ve thought up. Rather than to keep coming to the office for little work and much exposure to the Trump virus.

    2
  18. David S. says:

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen anyone mention this article, in relation to China-blame? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/02/china-withheld-data-coronavirus-world-health-organization-recordings-reveal