Factual · Powerful · Original · Iconoclastic
Ever since most of the world, including almost all of Europe, locked down to reduce the spread of COVID-19 but Sweden largely refused to go along, the country has been the subject of “Swede shaming” and reports that the varg (wolf) is finally at the door.
Thus on April 29 CNN published “Deaths Soar In Country That Didn’t Lock Down. Officials Identify Big Reason Why.” They didn’t; hence there was no reason, big or otherwise. Now there’s a new round of Swedenfreude. “Sweden Steadfast In Strategy As Virus Toll Continues Rising,” booms one source. “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Drives Up Infection Rate,” claims the BBC. And yet another blasts: “Sweden Has The Highest Daily Coronavirus Death Rate In The World – And It’s Getting Worse.” That’s from Yahoo Sports. Sports?
Yes, everyone wants in on the game. But they don’t like playing by the rules. As the data chart from Worldometers shows, Sweden now, as was true on April 29 and long before, has fewer deaths per million than five major countries in Europe, much less the world: Belgium, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom, plus some tiny European city-states. It’s tied with France.
So is there any truth in the latest faintly obscene rubbing of hands together in glee?
Yes, the death (and case) toll keeps rising in Sweden because only in Hollywood does anyone become undead. But it’s rising everywhere because no nation has or will eliminate COVID-19 through quarantines any more than any airborne pathogen has been so eliminated. In terms of infections (which are labeled “cases”) you have to go down to No. 24 to find Sweden.
It’s certainly possible that the Swedish rates would have been even lower under a lockdown, but that’s really not what the second headline implies. With no twin Sweden to compare the current Sweden to, the headline cannot be justified.
Indeed, to the extent lockdowns work at all it’s logical that Sweden has essentially “front-loaded” its deaths, while other countries have merely kept them temporarily dammed up. Thus any current comparison between death rates in lockdown nations versus Sweden would be false.
As to the “highest death rate in the world,” that’s true. But in a useless limited sense and the sense that has driven many of the recent Swedelash articles.
You see, it was over only a one-week period. During those few days, Sweden did indeed have the world’s highest death rate. But to use an analogy Yahoo Sports would appreciate, if the winningest baseball team suddenly lost seven games in a row, Yahoo Sports would (presumably) not suddenly declare it the worst. It’s just a streak that, in fairness, may actually have an underlying explanation (five top players suddenly injured in the same accident) or none at all except sheer luck.
The usually ignored “Farr’s Law,” promulgated in 1840, does state that epidemics follow regular patterns of rising most quickly at first, then more slowly, then peaking and declining in a somewhat symmetrical shape. This is not because of outside interventions (there were no public health agencies in 1840) but because a disease grabs the “low hanging fruit” first and then slows as the fruit becomes harder and harder to pick.
Farr’s Law, however, does not guarantee that this pattern will occur for any given short time period, anymore than flipping a coin 10 times guarantees five heads and five tails. Rather, given enough flips the odds do eventually even out.
These spikes and dips are readily seen in the European Centre for Disease Control chart (shown above). There is no explanation needed; it’s just like a coin toss. With massive numbers of deaths you would see a more even pattern; but COVID-19, with a U.S. Centers for Disease Control-estimated mortality rate of just 0.26%, just isn’t providing that many. You can pick a given week, in sports or epidemiology, to drive home a point. But it’s fake news nonetheless.
Indeed, in the last week as of this writing, Sweden has again dropped below all the aforementioned countries. Yes, it was just a fluke; and the media have what appears to be shaving foam coming out the mouth. (The reader can input his own data here choosing which countries and which dates.) It’s been a really tough week for the lockdown lovers. Remember how Liberty University was going to be blindsided with COVID-19 cases for keeping its campus open? Well, it just ended its semester with … let’s try to count the coronavirus cases … zero! More of that shaving cream stuff around the mouth.
Meanwhile, during that same “fatal week,” the public health authority of Sweden’s neighbor, Norway, published a report with the striking conclusion that coronavirus was never spreading as fast as had been feared and was already on the Farr’s Law downward slope when the lockdown was ordered.
Camille Stoltenberg, director general of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told state broadcaster NRK “Our assessment now … is that we could possibly have achieved the same effects and avoided some of the unfortunate impacts by not locking down, but by instead keeping open but with infection control measures.” She was clear that if there were a “second wave,” Norway would not repeat the error a second time.
Which can be inferred as saying Sweden committed no error the first time. Sweden was right; meaning practically the rest of the world was wrong – at a terrible, terrible price.