COVID Crisis Post 46: Sweden? The Best? South Korea: "Hold My Beer".
I think the WHO lauded the wrong country as a model for the rest of the world to follow.
The WHO declared Sweden a model for the rest of the world in regards to how a country can avoid a lockdown, though it contradicts a previous statement by the WHO who stated a lockdown was essential to suppress and stop transmission of the virus.
The primary goals of Sweden's approach was predicated on two things: 1. Achieving herd immunity 2. Minimizing economic impact.
Let us begin with herd immunity. The idea is simple: if there is no vaccine, the best way to protect the population is to get infected and become immune. However, there are numerous flaws in this line of reasoning.
1. Herd immunity is typically obtained via vaccination, not by incurring actual infection. This is preferable because actual infection can make you very sick or kill you. The latter is especially not good. Sweden currently sits at a 12% case fatality rate (CFR), MUCH higher than any of their Nordic neighbors, with a third of all deaths related to the government essentially sacrificing their elderly in nursing homes at the start of the pandemic.
Yes, the infection fatality rate (IFR) will be much lower than the CFR, but even an educated guess cannot be made due to their lack of testing, plus both total infections AND total deaths are probably both underestimated. Remember: there are still many patients who are hospitalized and have yet to recover. Many could still die, in addition to those attributed to the virus in the field. So the death toll will continue to increase.
2. Herd immunity assumes a large percentage of the population has become infected and subsequently develops immunity to the disease. But due to limited antibody and COVID-19 testing in Sweden, the number of those with antibodies or with confirmed infection are unknown.
So Swedish officials stating herd immunity will be achieved in a few weeks is not based on any actual data to prove their assertions, but on some BIG assumptions: a large percentage of the population being infected AND developing a sufficient antibody response AND achieving herd immunity. All yet unproven.
3. The reality is Sweden has NO idea if their idea will work. Thus, the people of the country have essentially volunteered themselves to serve as a control group for the rest of the world, even though their leaders continue to contradict scientists around the world, including many of their own.
4. A contradiction to me arises from Swedish officials encouraging social distancing while also asserting herd immunity will soon be attained. You socially distance to PREVENT spread, but spread is required to achieve herd immunity. So without rapid spread, herd immunity, again if even possible, would take much longer to achieve. So achieving herd immunity any time soon seems unlikely.
In regards to their economy, it is expected to be hit almost as hard as the rest of the European countries who initiated a strict lockdown per Sweden's Central Bank, Riksbank.
Sweden believed its economic impact could be mitigated significantly by trusting in their citizens to be socially responsible and banking on herd immunity to avoid a lockdown. But that was always short-sighted because its economy is clearly connected to the world's, and ignoring this reality does not change it. Its exports have suffered and international supply chains have been disrupted.
So keeping the economy open did not seem to limit the economic impact, so therd can be little justification given for the excess of deaths they have incurred as a result of their choices.
This seems like a country that seems to be floundering, yet the WHO believes the rest of the world should look at them as a model. Seriously?
If there is a country that should be viewed as a model for the world for the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be South Korea, NOT Sweden. Let us review the two main reasons why:
1. Due of their experience with SARS and MERS, they instituted a rapid response from the beginning, including: mass production and availability of rapid tests; drive through testing; screening centers; contact tracing; early quarantine for those at risk; wide-spread use of masks; and social distancing. And any new breakouts are immediately squashed (see: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/8/20-1274_article).
This has resulted in only 11k infections, 9k recoveries, and 250 deaths out of 620k tested. Not only that: they had ZERO new native infections on Wednesday for the first time in months. This in a country with a population density MUCH higher than many other countries.
That is incredible.
2. Why was this able to be achieved? Because the people have a DEEP TRUST in the officials who are leading their epidemic response. This trust has enabled the country to avoid a full lockdown. This trust was most impressively exhibited during elections for Parliament on April 15th, where 29 million people (over HALF of their population!!!) showed up to vote and not even ONE new infection was found to originate from this since everyone followed strict social distancing guidelines.
So if you want to talk about social responsibility and having a clear cut plan, then cheer South Korea. Their approach was BOSS and their citizens trust in their leaders allowed them to understand something very simple:
Sometimes giving up some freedoms are worth maintaining the majority of freedoms when the safety of the public as a whole is in the balance.
South Korea’s health and welfare minister Park Neung-hoo, via translation, explained their approach best to Time Magazine:
"...the greatest leverage we have for controlling COVID-19 is people’s trust in the state. Deep trust not only minimizes public anxiety, but is critical in inducing the participation and cooperation of the people in enforcing the POTENT VACCINE THAT IS SOCIAL DISTANCING.
For this, it is very important to provide relevant information to the people in the most transparent possible manner. In addition, it is also important to have smooth inter-ministerial and central-to-local governmental communication."
Our country will never be as cohesive or selfless as South Korea. Not even close.
But one can dream.