To prove a study isn’t suffering from selection bias, one of the best methods is to find cases or studies with similar precepts that show different results. When conclusions and expertise are constantly challenged by counter-conclusions and counter-expertise, the better the investigative process becomes, and everyone benefits with a better-refined outcome. In studying different results of similar assumptions, we have a better chance of isolating and understanding causal variables.
After five months of a total collapse of social life under forced quarantines, if we are indeed facing a second wave with no vaccines yet, it’s time to declare that Sweden’s approach was correct all along. While the majority of political leaders around the globe panicked, lost their nerve, and — at least temporarily — wrecked our countries, that wasn’t the case everywhere.
In refusing to lock down citizens over coronavirus, Sweden appears to have both managed to avoid an economic crash as well as a devastating death toll. As Americans and most of the rest of the world ponder how to handle second or even third waves of the coronavirus and the prospect of further lockdown, Sweden is now likely on her way to immunity.
As the pandemic struck, the Swedes normalized as much as they could, while maintaining a measure of social distancing. What Sweden didn’t do, unlike most of the globe, is reflexively dive into a full-lockdown scenario. Instead, they allowed life to go continue as ordinarily as possible. Stores remained open. Restaurants remained open. Most importantly, schools remained open as well. The state banned public gatherings of more than 50 people, but any further social distancing measures were largely unenforced and voluntary.
From the start, the Swedish government repeatedly made it crystal clear to the public that the battle against COVID-19-19 would be a marathon, not a sprint, and that many people would die. With all that starkly presented, the decision was made that (mostly) normal life was favorable to the alternatives, and herd immunity and economic stability would be the result.
By every measurable index, Sweden came out of the worst of the initial wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed. Sweden’s economy shrank 8.6 percent, compared to the European Union average of 11.9 percent. Countries with severe lockdowns like Spain, France, and Italy experienced even higher economic contractions, at 18.5 percent, 13.8 percent, and 12.4 percent, respectively. In short, by not completely cowering in fear and taking a few basic and prudent hygiene and social distancing measures, Sweden saved its economy and protected citizens from other evils of lockdowns.
In number of deaths, Sweden and Italy provide two completely different case studies. Italy chose some of the most severe lockdowns outside China. But, as Bloomberg reported, “on a per-capita basis, Italy’s death toll of more than 35,154 comes to about 600 per 1 million people, as does Sweden’s 5,743.” In other words, according to this comparison, the lockdown did not affect the death toll one bit.
Sadly, the harsh reality is that the folks most likely to pass away from the disease — namely, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions — were largely the ones who ended up dying from COVID-19, lockdown or not. As of August, Sweden’s death toll per 100,000 residents was around 56, lower than the United Kingdom’s total of 69, and far lower than Belgium’s figure of 86.
But the most important, albeit controversial, factor is not Sweden’s economy or death toll. For months, the U.S. and U.K. response to COVID-19 was to lock everything down and hope for a vaccine. While vaccine work is ongoing, the threat of further spikes and waves of the virus suggests that the lockdown strategy is doomed. Many countries are on the verge of bankruptcy. More people are dying from natural conditions and diseases like cancer and tuberculosis. Children are falling further and further behind in their education.
In short, there’s no easy way out now, and sooner or later, herd immunity will be the only way out. Thanks to the measures it took from the start, Sweden, according to a new study, appears to be on its way to achieving the elusive immunity every other country is craving right now. The analysis suggests that roughly twice as many people in Sweden have COVID-19 immunity, compared to their counterparts in countries that locked down. The source of this potentially life-saving immunity is T-cells, which helped develop antibodies in healthy people who had no infection but were exposed to infectious individuals.
The implication of the information contained in the recent study means that, without wrecking its economy, Sweden ended up with around the same level of dead proportional to overall population as other countries that did engage in massive lockdowns, and will be more ready than most of the world to face future waves of the virus. As a recent academic essay suggests:
Confidence in its Public Health Agency remains high at 65 percent, suggesting Swedes are not unhappy with the tradeoffs made. And they are prepared to follow directions, perhaps more than Australians and residents of the United States and the much-touted Germany. Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency says 87 percent of the population is complying with the social distancing restrictions that are in place, up from 82 percent a month ago.
There are similar dynamics observable across countries. One, from masks to lockdowns, “the experts” failed horribly. Two, the lockdowns and travel bans remain a continuous mistake. At the same point in the cycle, New York’s daily death toll equals those of Florida, California, and Texas combined. Needless to mention, Florida achieved that largely without lockdowns, and managed to avoid mismanagement, rioting, and joblessness. Yet New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is worshipped in the media.
Finally, and most importantly, the continuous lockdown and travel and flight bans show something else: our elected representatives lack the fortitude to go against massive public pressure and media propaganda. Quite simply, they have largely abdicated their duty and failed to lead with strength just when we all needed them the most. In doing so, they wrecked booming economies — the United Kingdom and the United States are just two examples of this awful phenomenon.
The thought that things could be a whole lot better if we’d only followed a similar path as Sweden did should be quite dispiriting, whatever your political position might be.