Arnon Grunberg



On Sweden - Thomas Erdbrink and Christina Anderson in NYT:

'Trust is high in Sweden — in government, institutions and fellow Swedes. When the government defied conventional wisdom and refused to order a wholesale lockdown to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus epidemic, public health officials pointed to trust as a central justification.
Swedes, they said, could be trusted to stay home, follow social distancing protocols and wash their hands to slow the spread of the virus — without any mandatory orders. And, to a large extent, Sweden does seem to have been as successful in controlling the virus as most other nations.'

Sweden’s death rate of 22 per 100,000 people is the same as that of Ireland, which has earned accolades for its handling of the pandemic, and far better than in Britain or France.
Yet, on this warm spring day, at least, there was little evidence that people were observing the protocols — adding further mystery to Sweden’s apparent success in handling the scourge without an economically devastating lockdown.
All around Ms. Lilja along Skanegatan Street in the Sodermalm neighborhood of Stockholm, younger Swedes thronged bars, restaurants and a crowded park last week, drinking in the sun.
They laughed and basked in freedoms considered normal in most parts of the world not long ago, before coronavirus lockdowns, quarantines and mass restrictions upended social norms. As other nations in Europe begin to consider reopening their economies, Sweden’s experience would seem to argue for less caution, not more.
“My respect for those who died, but we are doing something right here in Sweden,” said Johan Mattsson, 44, as he was having a drink at a cafe on Skanegatan Street.'


'While other countries were slamming on the brakes, Sweden kept its borders open, allowed restaurants and bars to keep serving, left preschools and grade schools in session and placed no limits on public transport or outings in local parks. Hairdressers, yoga studios, gyms and even some cinemas have remained open.
Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. Museums have closed and sporting events have been canceled. At the end of March, the authorities banned visits to nursing homes.
That’s roughly it. There are almost no fines, and police officers can only ask people to oblige. Pedestrians wearing masks are generally stared at as if they have just landed from Mars.

On Sunday, five restaurants were closed down for failing to observe social distancing requirements. They were not fined, however, and will be permitted to reopen after passing an inspection, Per Follin, the regional medical officer with the Department of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, said.'


'A compilation of mortality figures by The New York Times found that many countries were undercounting Covid-19 deaths by the thousands, while Sweden reported just 400 more deaths than expected between March 9 and April 19.
This is not to say that Sweden has escaped Covid-19’s deadly consequences entirely.

The Swedish Public Health Authority has admitted that the country’s seniors have been hit hard, with the virus spreading through 75 percent of the 101 care homes in Stockholm. Employees of the homes complain of shortages of personal protective equipment.

The authority announced last week that more than 26 percent of the 2 million inhabitants of Stockholm will have been infected by May 1. But even that figure was presented as something of a win: a number of infections that might limit future outbreaks, reached without suffering an inordinate number of deaths.
The freer approach has not fully insulated Sweden’s economy, mainly because the country is dependent on exports, the minister of finance, Magdalena Andersson, said. She said the economy was likely to shrink by 7 percent this year, “but of course hairdressers, restaurants and hotels are less affected compared to other countries.” From the first signs of the pandemic, the Swedish Public Health Authority decided that a lockdown would be pointless. “Once you get into a lockdown, it’s difficult to get out of it,” the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said. “How do you reopen? When?”'


'When responses are assessed after the crisis, Mr. Tegnell acknowledges, Sweden will have to face its broad failing with people over the age of 70, who have accounted for a staggering 86 percent of the country’s 2,194 fatalities to date.
That percentage is roughly on par with most other countries, but some critics here say the mortality rate among seniors could have been far lower with adequate preparation. In a letter to one of Sweden’s most prominent newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, 22 scientists accused the Public Health Authority of negligence.
“They tell people, stay home, but they also keep the restaurants open,” said Lena Einhorn, a virologist and one of the signatories of the letter. “They are advising people working in elderly homes only to wear masks when a patient is sick. Their policies are both ambiguous and rigid.”'


'Such thoughts were far from the minds of the dozens of graduating students who gathered to celebrate Friday night in several bars on Medborgarplatsen Square in Stockholm. They crowded around the bar, hugging and kissing, and generally flouting the rules. The police made no move to stop them.'

Read the article here.

Mr. Friedman added:

'Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency — the nation’s top infectious disease official and architect of Sweden’s coronavirus response, said in an interview published in USA Today on Tuesday: “We think that up to 25 percent people in Stockholm have been exposed to coronavirus and are possibly immune. A recent survey from one of our hospitals in Stockholm found that 27 percent of staff there are immune. We think that most of those are immune from transmission in society, not the workplace. We could reach herd immunity in Stockholm within a matter of weeks.” Tegnell explains that Sweden is not just blithely letting all Swedes get the disease to achieve herd immunity, but rather is pursuing a designed strategy for the most sustainable way to navigate through this pandemic. So colleges and high schools are closed, but kindergarten through grade nine are open, as are many restaurants, stores and businesses.
But the government has also issued social-distancing guidelines, which many people are abiding by, encouraged working from home and discouraged nonessential travel. Most important, it has encouraged everyone over 70 to stay at home and banned gatherings of more than 50 people and visits to nursing homes.
The result, so far, Tegnell noted, has been a gradual building of herd immunity among those least vulnerable while the country has avoided mass unemployment and an overwhelming of the hospital system.'

Read his column here.

An article by Sterre Lindhout in a Dutch newspaper (De Volkskrant) was much more critical of the Swedish approach.

From a democratic and judicial perspective Sweden is on the right track. The nasty effects of martial law and/or emergency laws should be avoided at all costs. (I can think of one or two exceptions.) Policemen beating, arresting or fining people for 'being together' remains questionable, even if it's been done because people's lives might be saved. Keep in mind that the gathering is not a direct threat to other people's lives.

Of course one can ask why it's less of a threat to democracy and the constitution when gatherings of more than fifty people are forbidden. I would argue that this is justifiable - not least because of what other states were doing to prevent the spread - but it remains important that demonstrations can take place, as long as the participants keep the necessary distance between each other.

And then there is the bias that action is always better than inaction. Usually governments really come into action when the damage is already done, or is on the verge of being done. Without an imminent and grave threat a large part of the population won't accept the emergency rules. This is one of the reasons why fighting climate change is such an uphill battle. The threat is perceived as too abstract, maybe even non-existing.
When the government feels it might be too late it will probably overreact. As many parents and teachers do.

But back to the Swedish approach, if human activity is the problem it's possible that human passivity is a solution. Meaning also a certain amount of state passivity. The state is not a God after all, I hate to tell you this, but yes, thank God the state is not a God. The state is not omnipotent and should never strive to be omnipotent.

The war metaphor used by too many politicians is telling. We don't need another war with other emergency laws.

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