Sweden Did It Right – We Did It Wrong (Reprise)

Commentary, COVID-19, Healthcare, Brian Giesbrecht

The following article discusses Sweden’s successful policy of keeping schools open throughout the pandemic. Simply put, they resisted the huge pressure excerpted upon them from the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as virtually all of the leaders of the Western world, to follow along with the lockdown policies that most of Europe and North America had decided – in a panic over erroneously projected Covid fatalities – to inflict on their citizens. It is to the great benefit of all of us that Sweden’s chief health architect, Anders Tegnell, was able to convince Swedish politicians to resist this pressure, and take a common sense approach. Tegnell would be an obvious candidate for the Nobel prize – in a fair world.

The result was that Sweden never closed its schools for children up to age 15. Schooling continued in a normal way, without masks, and little change in their day to day operation. Of the approximately 1.8 million students, there were zero deaths from Covid. As for teacher infection rates, they were no higher than for the grocery clerks selling groceries to those teachers. Simply put, the decision to keep schools open was the right decision.

We are only now beginning to see the terrible harm we have done to our children by closing schools, and then only reopening them with forced mask wearing, and a severely compromised daily routine. In fact, one regret Anders Tegnell has is not keeping collegiate and universities open as well during the pandemic.

It was crystal clear to Tegnell that Covid was never a deadly threat to young, healthy students. They recover quickly from such viruses, and their immune systems are then better prepared for the next virus that comes along. The following article discusses how Sweden managed to keep schools open, and avoid the damage we chose to do to our children.

Sweden also resisted pressure to force businesses to close. And again, that decision was the right decision. Sweden’s economy has largely avoided the economic devastation incurred by countries, like Canada, that deliberately unemployed millions of healthy workers, and squandered Canada’s treasure by paying young, healthy people to stay home and remain unproductive. Many of those young people remain at home today – preferring now to remain on the government dole rather than going back to productive work. Sweden’s debt, as a result, is manageable, while ours is crushing.

Mask mandates were never an issue, for the simple reason that Sweden, like the other Nordic nations, does not believe that mass wearing of cloth masks does anything of significance to stop the spread of a respiratory virus – a virus that will spread until sufficient herd immunity has been achieved.

Although a political change did result in vaccine mandated travel, common sense soon regained control, and the useless and divisive mandates came to a merciful end.

In all, 6,000 people died in a total population of 10,000,000. That is a rate that is lower than most of the heavily locked down European nations, such as Britain, Italy and France.

And no Swedish leader made the false promise to their people that ours did – namely to “keep us safe”. Sweden’s scientists and politicians had the humility to understand that once a respiratory virus is in the general population no leader has the power of a King Cnut to make that virus go away. A government’s power is very limited. Only by spreading in a controlled way through the population can sufficient herd immunity that wil end the immediate threat.

In short, Anders Tegnell’s decisions saved Sweden from most of the misery and divisiveness that we in lockdown-happy nations insisted on inflicting on ourselves. Sweden didn’t panic, but instead remained clear-headed and logical. Theirs was a victory of common sense and pragmatism, over our lockdown and vaccine mandate hysteria.

Frontier was one of the few Canadian thought-leaders who recognized at a very early date that the Swedish approach was far more sensible than Canada’s panic and hysteria. Here is an early article on the topic (Sweden Did It Right -We Did It Wrong). There were others as well. David Redman and I both wrote extensively on this topic, and Frontier was one of the few publishers willing to publish such contrarian pieces.

Because it must be remembered how unanimous the mainstream media was in pushing not only extreme lockdown policies, but also Covid Zero policies. We endured labels, like “Covidiot” as Sweden endured attack after attack by the mainstream media – a media that pushed not only erroneous Covid Zero policies, but even draconian government intervention that even saw Christian pastors thrown in jail for simply wanting to preach to their congregations. Those extreme policies pushed by the mainstream media look increasingly not only wrong, but almost insanely wrong now. But every one of Canada’s mainstream newspapers flogged those deadly policies.

So, Frontier Centre for Public Policy can be forgiven for giving itself a pat on the back. We got it right. They got it wrong.

Enjoy the following article.

 

 

Johan Anderberg: Sweden saved children from lockdown

It was wise enough to resist school closures

It’s been more than two years since the world went into lockdown and schools, like most institutions, closed their doors. But the most devastating consequences of this policy are only just coming to light. Thousands of disadvantaged children have fallen behind.

It didn’t have to be this way. One country did it differently.

Late in the evening of 12 March 2020, journalists waited in a government building in Stockholm for the Swedish minister for education, Anna Ekström, to deliver a statement. Most of them expected the Swedish government to announce school closures. The night before in Copenhagen, the Danish prime minister, Mette Fredriksen, had declared that all preschools, schools, and universities in Denmark would close. Just a few hours earlier, Norway had followed suit. In Sweden, Ekström had just had a meeting with representatives of school principals and government agencies.

When she finally emerged and delivered her verdict, she explained that the government had chosen to keep the schools open. “It’s a clear recommendation from the Public Health Agency, and they are very keen to see it followed,” she said.

What no one at the time knew was that, behind the scenes, a retired epidemiologist had won his first battle. Seventy-year-old Johan Giesecke had been Sweden’s state epidemiologist between 1995 and 2005, and had a good relationship with Anders Tegnell, the man who now held the title. Decades earlier, Giesecke had hired Tegnell because he appreciated what appeared to be Tegnell’s complete indifference to what other people thought of him. Now, Giesecke referred to Tegnell as “his son”.

Both men, at the start of the pandemic, advocated for keeping schools open.

They did this for a number of reasons. Firstly, no one knew if school closures worked. On the one hand, there was some historic support for the policy: experiences from school holidays during influenza outbreaks in France, and the varying responses to the 1918 pandemic in the US, suggested that the number of cases could “maybe” be reduced by 15% by closures, in an optimistic scenario. But it also suggested that those gains would likely be lost if the children weren’t completely isolated when staying home from school.

 And the intervention came at a high cost. The bill for closing British schools for 12 weeks was estimated at 1% of the country’s GDP in a Lancet article (among the authors were both Anders Tegnell and Neil Ferguson). In the US, an equivalent intervention cost 6% of the GDP according to the same article.

It was a hard decision to make — unless you were Johan Giesecke. He was completely convinced that closing schools was the wrong route to take. Above all, he thought, it would be unfair on the children. Everyone in the public health business knew that school absences had an adverse effect on children’s living conditions (see hereherehere and here) well into later life.

That night, even though he and Tegnell had managed to convince the Swedish government to keep schools open, Giesecke knew defending the decision would be hard. The politicians of the world were panicking. Early the next morning, Giesecke wrote in an email to Tegnell: “An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur.” Just to be safe, he added a translation: “Don’t you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”

The Swedes monitored the course of events unfurling on the rest of the continent. The countries closing their schools and preschools were growing more and more numerous. Tegnell couldn’t understand what they were doing.

His confidantes at the agency agreed with his assessment: the rest of the world was rushing headlong into a dangerous experiment with unforeseen consequences. The head of analysis at the agency explained that Spanish school closures had pushed the virus from the cities to the coasts, as wealthy families fled to their holiday homes. And school closures would force many key workers, including doctors and nurses, to stay home from their jobs.

“The world has gone mad,” Tegnell wrote to two colleagues.

 There was one notable exception to the madness. In the UK, things still seemed normal. On 16 March, Tegnell and Giesecke emailed each other about a video of Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty explaining the British pandemic strategy, which so far included keeping schools open. The email thread’s subject line was: “Go, England”.

But what neither Tegnell nor the others knew as they watched the British decision-makers explaining their strategy was that soon the UK would change tack, after Imperial College released a report that made dire predictions. Without extensive action to slow the spread of coronavirus, as many as 510,000 people in the UK, and 2.2 million people in the United States, could die in the space of a couple of months. A rough translation based on Swedish population figures meant that almost 100,000 Swedes would perish.

But Giesecke was sceptical. He pointed to the example of “mad cow disease”: in 2001, the British had slaughtered millions of livestock to prevent it from spreading. “They thought 50,000 people would die. So how many did?” Giesecke liked to ask.

He always answered his own question: “157”.

He had more examples. Four years later, Imperial College warned that 150 million people around the world might die of bird flu. It ended up being 455. Four years after that, it was swine flu: the prognosis forecast 65,000 British deaths. The results? 474. Why would anyone trust the British scientists now? The new report, Giesecke wrote, was “way off the mark”.

Sweden, then, would defy the rest of the world. Here, people generally didn’t have to wear face masks, leisure activities were largely allowed to continue unhindered — and young children continued going to school, football practice and music lessons. Some birthday parties were cancelled, of course, but compared to the rest of the world, young Swedish kids’ lives changed very little. They never had to wear face masks in school, nor undergo systematic testing procedures.

Foreign media were quick to call the strategy “a disaster” (Time), “the world’s cautionary tale” (New York Times) and “deadly folly” (Guardian). In Germany, Focus described the policy as “sloppiness”; Italy’s La Repubblica concluded that the “Nordic model country” had made a dangerous mistake.

Many theories emerged as to why Sweden took such a different path. Some of them focus on Sweden’s constitution, which differs from other European countries’, for instance in the extreme autonomy of government agencies, and the constitutional right to move around the country. Others point to the fact that Swedish authorities were unnecessarily hawkish during the HIV epidemic, and weren’t willing to repeat the same mistake.

But the main reason for Sweden’s special path is uncomplicated: the Swedes made a different interpretation of the scientific data early on in the pandemic. They simply believed the scenarios presented by the rest of the world, and especially the one from Imperial College, to be vastly exaggerated. And they thought that lockdowns and school closures were terrible for public health in general.

Based on what we know today, two years on from the start of the pandemic, it’s pretty clear that they got it right. In July 2020, when deaths in Sweden — according to calibrations from researchers at the universities at Lund and Uppsala, based on the Imperial College report, were supposed to be between 85,000 and 96,000 — the Swedish death toll stood at less than 6,000. Throughout that spring, people had been free to move, go skiing, go to the gym; preschools and schools for kids under 16 had been open.

Children in other countries are still suffering the after-effects of lockdown. In the US, maths and reading skills for children between the ages of three and eight were lower than normal last autumn — and, according to the Center for School and Student Progress, native American, Black, and Hispanic students, as well as students in high-poverty schools, were disproportionately impacted.

“American children are starting 2022 in crisis,” concluded David Leonhardt of the New York Times when going through the available research.

The story is the same in all locked down and masked-up countries. In Germany, studies show an increase in childhood obesity, a deterioration of language skills and concerning fine motor deficiencies; in Norway, newspapers report a “wave of sick young people”. And in Britain, the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has admitted that lockdowns exacerbated childhood obesity. The share of children starting school with a weight problem has risen by a fifth since the pandemic.

Early indications suggest that Swedish kids, on the other hand, have been spared. According to a new study in the International Journal of Educational Research, the proportion of students with weak reading skills did not increase during the pandemic, and students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds did not disproportionately suffer. Of course, every individual study needs to be taken with a grain of salt: had the world’s politicians and policymakers heeded this principle in March 2020, it would have spared the world a lot of grief.

What price did Sweden pay for the health of its children? Strangely, in the nation that served as a control group during the pandemic, deaths not only ended up much lower than predicted, but lower than in most other comparable countries. According to the WHO’s latest figures, Sweden had an average excess death rate during 2020 and 2021 of 56 per 100,000 — lower than much of Europe and below the global average. The corresponding figure is 109 in the UK, 111 in Spain, 116 in Germany and 133 in Italy.

Over the last few weeks, social media has erupted over the WHO’s plans for a “pandemic treaty”. Many believe that it paves the way for the WHO to overrule national laws and impose lockdowns and other restrictions without citizens’ consent. While the specific concerns are largely unfounded, the fear is not difficult to understand. Had Sweden followed global received wisdom during the last pandemic, it might have come out the other side with a generation of scarred children. While most societies avoided questioning the efficacy of school closures, and still can’t have a reasoned debate about the restrictions, we quietly went our own way. Perhaps the Nordic approach remains a model, after all.

 

Johan Anderberg is a journalist and author of The Herd, a bestselling history of the Swedish experience during Covid-19. See original file at Sweden saved children from lockdown, UnHerd, June 17, 2022