Sweden took an enormous amount of international criticism when it decided not to do massive lockdowns like most of the world, but the media was absent when the numbers started adding up that showed Sweden somehow got through the Spring with largely similar per capita numbers as much of the world, and significantly better than many of the hardest hit countries.
But without considering the success Sweden experienced in the first wave, the media is back at it again pointing to their new surge in cases. Yes, Sweden is, in fact, experiencing a second wave, just as the entire world is. But they are still not shutting down and locking in. Furthermore, their hospitalization rate and death rate are significantly lower than in the first wave. They are higher than a month or two ago, but it simply does not track with the rise in “cases,’ as we experienced earlier in the year.
The media stories talk about how Norway is doing so much better, as though the fact that it is a neighboring country is what matters. Norway is also half the population, with a significantly less dense population density… something that we have all learned makes a huge difference.
The stories carry headlines that say “Sweden Limits Public Gatherings to 8 People,” or “Sweden Bans Alcohol Sales after 10 PM to fight the pandemic.” Well, yes. An attempt to slow it down in crowded clubs. But it ends there. Everything else is allowed. You can still have a party with 100 of your closest friends. Why would they allow this? Because they cannot legally do what many governments are doing, and it turns out that if we look at the world over the past ten months, the virus will do what the virus will do, and locking down has not shown any measurable effect except in theory.
But in practice, Sweden had some good company.
Taiwan never imposed lockdowns. They asked their citizens to wear masks in public gatherings. They did not shame them into it, they simply asked. Not everyone did. They closely monitored all inbound flights, and required people in contact with anyone that had the virus to quarantine. That was it, and they have had fewer then 600 cases, and recently hit 200 days with no new cases.
Japan is another country that did not impose lockdowns. They also asked the citizens to mask up, social distance and avoid large parties. Just like the rest of us, they, too, are experiencing another wave, but they are staying that course. Focus on contact tracing and quarantining those people, rather than the whole of society. If you look at their numbers throughout the pandemic, they fare significantly better than most of the world.
Yet another example. Being the second major outbreak, they also chose not to shut down the country, but focus on asking the citizens to be careful, while working hard on contact tracing and laser focused quarantines. They are also seeing a new wave, but like with the others, the hospitalizations and deaths do not track the way they did earlier in the pandemic. Like Sweden, Taiwan and Japan, they are not talking about mandates and lockdowns, and they did significantly better than most of the world.
Is There Something To Learn?
I like to look at data and simply do the math and think about probabilities. Early in the pandemic, the entire world was scrambling as they tried to figure out what to do. Nobody knew who would have the best solution. But now with 10 months of data and roughly three waves of the virus, we do have some data to look at.
We cannot point to a single country and say “Look how well the lockdowns worked,” because we have no way of knowing how they would have been affected if they had not locked down in the first place. Any answer to the question of whether or not lockdowns helped is purely speculative.
But we can look at places that did things differently, and compare them to one another. It would appear that not only did those countries that chose not to lockdown fare better than most of us, but they focused almost entirely on different approaches in other departments.
Ask the People
All of these countries that did not impose lockdowns spent a tremendous amount of energy asking the citizens to unite, rather than making authoritarian mandates. Many people argue that Americans would not respond to such requests, but that is also just speculation. The media in the United States created a narrative that politicized mask wearing. Most of those that believe in personal freedom did not object to a mask, but objected to force. Both sides of our government instead used it as a political tool, and the media ran with it. But f you look back at how we reacted as a united people after 9/11, you will see that Americans will unite against a common threat. What matters is how it is presented to them. Our country never tried to give its own people a chance to unite in patriotism of their own free will. Instead we told our people what they cannot do, and how they must obey.
The mere thought of contact tracing conjures up the image of Big Brother watching you, and it does for good reason. We all know how much of our privacy has been given up. Many of us also have serious buyers remorse after passing The Patriot Act. But those countries that did not lock down, did focus significantly on comprehensive tracing of people that have been in contact or close proximity with others having the virus, and it seems to have made a significant difference.
But there is a way to do effective contact tracing without permanently giving up your privacy. Simply put, ask the people to voluntarily install an app on their phones for this purpose. Not everyone would do it, but if presented respectfully, most would. Enough to make it very effective. To allay the concerns of the citizens, the app would be open source, so everything is 100% transparent, and when the danger of the virus is gone, you simply delete the app.
This is not only realistic, it is already happening elsewhere. While South Korea and some other countries simply released an app, Italy offers a comprehensive contract tracing app that is widely downloaded, and 100% open source. That means any person in the world can look at the code inside of it to make sure it is not doing anything nefarious. Unfortunately, Italy’s app is relatively new, so we cannot see its effectiveness yet.
Protect the Most Vulnerable
While these countries that did not force their country into mass quarantine let their people make their own decisions, they did focus much of their resources to protecting the most vulnerable people. Heavy focus on elderly, nursing homes, etc. Yeah, there was a period in which they said you can do just about anything, but please don’t visit grandma. 99+% of those under 70 get through it with no issues, and the survival rate has increased significantly since the outbreak began.
Follow the Science
All science is not in lockstep. It never is. We agree until proven wrong. So now that we are ten months into Covid, how do some of these countries fare compared to one another in terms of deaths per captita? That should give us some information, shouldn’t it?
#1 is Belgium with the most covid deaths per capita in the world. They are followed by Peru, Spain, Argentina, The UK, Brazil, Chile and Italy. All countries that had major lockdowns. The United States chimes in at #12. Sweden is down the list, ranking at #21. No lockdowns, no massive mandates. Japan is #112, no massive mandates or lockdowns. South Korea is at #121 with no lockdowns or massive mandates, and Taiwan doesn’t even make the list with a grand total of 7 deaths with a population of nearly 24 million… and no lockdowns or authoritarian mandates.
So I ask for just a little critical thought. Is it even remotely possible that the experts our leaders are listening to have given some bad advice? Is it not fair to look at all of this data now, and admit that maybe, just maybe some of these other countries that took a less authoritarian approach can teach us something?
Is it possible that the world leaders that made these decisions realize this, but are unwilling to take responsibility for a massive miscalculation? I am not asking people to believe in some wild conspiracy. I sure don’t. But who wants to take the fall for what may be the biggest economic f*up in the history of the world? Spinning it and doubling down is a much easier choice. Maybe I am wrong, but the actual number are with me here.
I get it. It is out there, and nobody wants to get it, of course. But we have enough data now to show that until we have a vaccine, this is largely treatable, and we can live with it. Will people die? Yes. They will also die in car accidents, of cancer, from heart attacks, and any of a number of things that kill people. More will die this year than normal, and that is a tragedy. But that does not mean that locking everything down makes it better. It certainly does not mean that telling people to wear masks inside their own homes will help, or putting millions out of work and decimating hundreds of thousands of people’s life savings based on data that now seems to clearly show to have made very little difference in how the virus spreads.