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Did Sweden’s controversial COVID strategy pay off? In many ways it did – but it let the elderly down

Although Sweden was hit hard by the first wave, its total excess deaths during the first two years of the pandemic was among the lowest in Europe.

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Talita Rocha/Shutterstock

As much of the world shut down early in the COVID pandemic, Sweden remained open. The country’s approach was controversial, with some calling it “the Swedish experiment”. But almost two-and-a-half years after the pandemic began, what can we say today about the outcomes of this “experiment”?

First, let’s recap what Sweden’s strategy looked like. The country largely stuck to its pandemic plan, originally developed to be used in the event of an influenza pandemic. Instead of lockdowns, the goal was to achieve social distancing through public health recommendations.

Swedes were encouraged to work from home if possible and limit travel within the country. In addition, people aged 70 or older were asked to limit social contact, and people with COVID symptoms were asked to self-isolate. The goal was to protect the elderly and other high-risk groups while slowing down the spread of the virus so the healthcare system wouldn’t become overwhelmed.

As the number of cases surged, some restrictions were imposed. Public events were limited to a maximum of 50 people in March 2020, and eight people in November 2020. Visits to nursing homes were banned and upper secondary schools closed. Primary schools did, however, remain open throughout the pandemic.

Face masks were not recommended for the general public during the first wave, and only in certain situations later in the pandemic.

During spring 2020, the reported COVID death rate in Sweden was among the highest in the world. Neighbouring countries that implemented rapid lockdown measures, such as Norway and Denmark, were faring much better, and Sweden received harsh criticism for its lax approach.

But defenders of the Swedish strategy claimed it would pay off in the long run, arguing that draconian measures were not sustainable and that the pandemic was a marathon, not a sprint.

So did Sweden’s approach pay off?

Let’s look at excess mortality as a key example. This metric takes the total number of deaths and compares this figure with pre-pandemic levels, capturing the wider effects of the pandemic and accounting for incorrect reporting of COVID deaths.

Although Sweden was hit hard by the first wave, its total excess deaths during the first two years of the pandemic were actually among the lowest in Europe.


Read more: Sweden under fire for 'relaxed' coronavirus approach – here's the science behind it


The decision to keep primary schools open also paid off. The incidence of severe acute COVID in children has been low, and a recent study showed that Swedish children didn’t suffer the learning loss seen in many other countries.

In this light, the Swedish strategy has gone from being called “a disaster” and “cautionary tale” to a “Scandinavian success”. But to draw any relevant conclusions, it’s crucial we dig a little further into how Swedes navigated the pandemic.

People walking in Malmo, Sweden.
Sweden was widely criticised for its COVID approach. Dan_Manila/Shutterstock

Notably, any perceptions that people in Sweden went on with their everyday lives during the pandemic as if nothing had changed are untrue.

In a survey by Sweden’s Public Health Agency from the spring of 2020, more than 80% of Swedes reported they had adjusted their behaviour, for example by practising social distancing, avoiding crowds and public transport, and working from home. Aggregated mobile data confirmed that Swedes reduced their travel and mobility during the pandemic.

Swedes were not forced to take action against the spread of the virus, but they did so anyway. This voluntary approach might not have worked everywhere, but Sweden has a history of high trust in authorities, and people tend to comply with public health recommendations.

It’s also difficult to compare Sweden’s results to those of countries outside of Scandinavia that have very different social and demographic conditions.

Strengths and weaknesses

Despite the benefits of avoiding lockdown, the Swedish response was not flawless. In late 2020, the Corona Commission, an independent committee appointed by the government to evaluate the Swedish pandemic response, found the government and the Public Health Agency had largely failed in their ambition to protect the elderly.

At that time, almost 90% of those who had died with COVID in Sweden were 70 or older. Half of these people were living in a care home, and just under 30% were receiving home help services.

Indeed, numerous problems within elderly care in Sweden became evident during the pandemic. Structural shortcomings such as insufficient staffing levels left nursing homes unprepared and ill-equipped to handle the situation.

In its final report on the pandemic response, the Corona Commission concluded that tougher measures should have been taken early in the pandemic, such as quarantine for those returning from high-risk areas and a temporary ban on entry to Sweden.


Read more: Coronavirus: survey reveals what Swedish people really think of country's relaxed approach


The commission did, however, state that the no-lockdown strategy was fundamentally reasonable, and that the state should never interfere with the rights and freedoms of its citizens more than absolutely necessary. The commission also supported the decision to keep primary schools open.

By comparison, the Corona Commission in Norway, one of the few countries in Europe with lower excess mortality than Sweden, concluded that although the handling of the pandemic in Norway was generally good, children were hit hard by lockdowns and the authorities did not adequately protect them.

The focus of Sweden’s strategy was to reduce the spread of the virus, but also to consider other aspects of public health and protect freedom and fundamental rights. While the Swedish strategy remains controversial, today most countries are taking similar approaches to the continuing pandemic.

Looking back, it seems a bit unjust that the country that followed its pre-pandemic plan was the country accused of conducting an experiment on its population. Perhaps Sweden instead should be considered the control group, while the rest of the world underwent an experiment.

Emma Frans does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Spread & Containment

Decrease in Japanese children’s ability to balance during movement related to COVID-19 activity restrictions

A team of researchers from Nagoya University in central Japan investigated how restrictions on children’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic affected…

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A team of researchers from Nagoya University in central Japan investigated how restrictions on children’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic affected their life habits and their abilities to perform physical activities. By comparing medical examination data before and after the onset of the pandemic, they found that physical functions among adolescents deteriorated, including their dynamic balance. They also found that the children had higher body fat levels and worse life habits. Rather than a lack of exercise time, this may have been because of a lack of quality exercise due to activity restrictions.  

Credit: Credit must be given when image is used

A team of researchers from Nagoya University in central Japan investigated how restrictions on children’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic affected their life habits and their abilities to perform physical activities. By comparing medical examination data before and after the onset of the pandemic, they found that physical functions among adolescents deteriorated, including their dynamic balance. They also found that the children had higher body fat levels and worse life habits. Rather than a lack of exercise time, this may have been because of a lack of quality exercise due to activity restrictions.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in Japan, as in other countries, schools and sports clubs tried to prevent the spread of infection by reducing physical education and restricting outdoor physical activities, club activities, and sports. However, children who are denied opportunities for physical activity with social elements may develop bad habits. During the pandemic, children, like adults, increased the time they spent looking at television, smartphone, and computer screens, exercised less, and slept less. Such changes in lifestyle can harm adolescent bodies, leading to weight gain and health problems. 

Visiting Researcher Tadashi Ito and Professor Hideshi Sugiura from the Department of Biological Functional Science at the Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine, together with Dr. Yuji Ito from the Department of Pediatrics at Nagoya University Hospital, and  Dr. Nobuhiko Ochi and Dr. Koji Noritake from Aichi Prefectural Mikawa Aoitori Medical and Rehabilitation Center for Developmental Disabilities, conducted a study of Japanese children and students in elementary and junior high schools, aged 9-15, by analyzing data from physical examinations before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. They evaluated the children’s muscle strength, dynamic balance functions, walking speed, body fat percentage, screen time, sleep time, quality of life, and physical activity time.  

The researchers found that after the onset of the pandemic, children were more likely to have decreased balance ability when moving, larger body fat percentage, report spending more time looking at TV, computers or smartphones, and sleep less. Since there were no changes in the time spent on physical activity or the number of meals eaten, Sugiura and his colleagues suggest that the worsening of physical functions was related to the quality of exercise of the children. The researchers reported their findings in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  

“Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Japan after April 2020, children have not been able to engage in sufficient physical education, sports activities, and outdoor play at school. It became clear that balance ability during movement was easily affected, lifestyle habits were disrupted, and the percentage of body fat was likely to increase,” explained Ito. “This may have been because of shorter outdoor playtime and club activities, which impeded children’s ability to learn the motor skills necessary to balance during movement.” 

“Limitations on children’s opportunities for physical activity because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus have had a significant impact on the development of physical function and lifestyle and may cause physical deterioration and health problems in the future,” warned Ito. “Especially, the risk of injury to children may increase because of a reduced dynamic balance function.” 

The results suggest that even after the novel coronavirus becomes endemic, it is important to consider the effects of social restrictions on the body composition of adolescents. Since physical activities with a social element may be important for health, authorities should prioritize preventing the reduction of children’s physical inactivity and actively encourage them to play outdoors and exercise. The group has some recommendations for families worried about the effects of school closings and other coronavirus measures on their children. “It is important for children to practice dynamic balance ability, maintaining balance to avoid falling over while performing movements,” Ito advised. “To improve balance function in children, it is important to incorporate enhanced content, such as short-term exercise programs specifically designed to improve balance functions.” 


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Government

Contradictions, Lies, And “I Don’t Recalls”: The Fauci Deposition

Contradictions, Lies, And "I Don’t Recalls": The Fauci Deposition

Authored by Techno Fog via The Reactionary,

Today, Missouri Attoney General…

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Contradictions, Lies, And "I Don't Recalls": The Fauci Deposition

Authored by Techno Fog via The Reactionary,

Today, Missouri Attoney General Eric Schmitt released the transcript of the testimony of Dr. Anthony Fauci. As you might recall, Fauci was deposed as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the Biden Administration’s violations of the First Amendment in targeting and suppressing the speech of Americans who challenged the government’s narrative on COVID-19.

Here is the Fauci deposition transcript.

And here are the highlights…

EcoHealth Alliance - the Peter Daszak group - is knee-deep in the Wuhan controversy, having been funded by the Fauci’s NIH for coronavirus and gain of function research in China (and having worked with the Chinese team in Wuhan). What does Fauci say about EcoHealth Alliance? Over two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and after millions dead worldwide, he’s “vaguely familiar” with their work.

In early 2020, Fauci was put on notice that his group - NIAID - had funded EcoHealth alliance on bat coronavirus research for the past five years.

This coincided with early reports - directly to Fauci, from Jeremy Ferrar and Christian Anderson - “of the possibility of there being a manipulation of the virus” based on the fact that “it was an unusual virus.”

Fauci conceded that he was specifically made aware by Anderson that “the unusual features of the virus” make it look “potentially engineered.”

Fauci couldn’t recall why he sent an article discussing gain of function research in China to his deputy, Hugh Auchincloss, telling him it was essential that they speak on the phone. He couldn’t recall speaking with Auchincloss via phone that day. But remarkably, Fauci did remember assigning research tasks to Auchincloss

Fauci was evasive on conversations with Francis Collins about whether NIAID may have funded coronavirus-related research in China, eventually stating “I don’t recall.”

The phrase “I don’t recall” was prominent in Fauci’s deposition. He said it a total of 174 times:

For example, Fauci couldn’t remember what anyone said on a call discussing whether the virus originated in a lab:

During that same call, Fauci couldn’t recall whether anyone expressed concern that the lab leak “might discredit scientific funding projects.” He also couldn’t recall whether there was a discussion about a lab leak distracting from the virus response. Fauci did remember, however, that they agreed there needed to be more time to investigate the virus origins - including the lab leak theory.

What else couldn’t Fauci remember? Whether, early into the pandemic, his confidants raised concerns about social media posts about the origins of COVID-19.

Yet Fauci did admit he was concerned about social media posts blaming China for the pandemic. He even admitted the accidental lab leak “certainly is a possibility,” contradicting his prior claims to National Geographic where he said the virus “could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”

Fauci also couldn’t recall whether he had any conversations with Daszak about the origins of COVID-19 in February 2020, but admitted those conversations might have happened: “I told you before that I did not remember any direct conversations with him about the origin, and I said I very well might have had conversations but I don't specifically remember conversations.” And he couldn’t recall telling the media early on during the pandemic that the virus was consistent with a jump “from an animal to a human.”

Fauci said he was in the dark on social media actions to curb speech and suspend accounts that posted COVID-19 information that didn’t fit the mainstream narrative: “I’m not aware of suppression of speech on social media.” Yet it was Fauci’s proclamations of the truth, whether about the origins of COVID-19 to the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, that led to social media companies banning discussions of contrary information.

Regarding those removals of content, Fauci had no personal knowledge of a US Government/Social Media effort to curb “misinformation.” But he conceded the possibility numerous times.

Then there’s the issue of masks. In February 2020, Fauci informed an acquaintance that was traveling: “I do not recommend that you wear a mask.” Fauci would later become a vocal proponent of masks only two months later.

I’m near my Substack length limit - posting the excerpts does that - but you can see from Fauci’s testimony that his public statements about COVID-19 origins and the necessity to wear a mask didn’t match his private conversations. This has been known for some time, but it’s finally nice to get him on record.

Again, read it all and subscribe here.

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 21:40

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International

Global Wages Take A Hit As Inflation Eats Into Paychecks

Global Wages Take A Hit As Inflation Eats Into Paychecks

The global inflation crisis paired with lackluster economic growth and an outlook…

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Global Wages Take A Hit As Inflation Eats Into Paychecks

The global inflation crisis paired with lackluster economic growth and an outlook clouded by uncertainties have led to a decline in real wages around the world, a new report published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) has found.

As Statista's Felix Richter reports, according to the 2022-23 Global Wage Report, global real monthly wages fell 0.9 percent this year on average, marking the first decline in real earnings at a global scale in the 21st century.

You will find more infographics at Statista

The multiple global crises we are facing have led to a decline in real wages.

"It has placed tens of millions of workers in a dire situation as they face increasing uncertainties,” ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo said in a statement, adding that “income inequality and poverty will rise if the purchasing power of the lowest paid is not maintained.”

While inflation rose faster in high-income countries, leading to above-average real wage declines in North America (minus 3.2 percent) and the European Union (minus 2.4 percent), the ILO finds that low-income earners are disproportionately affected by rising inflation. As lower-wage earners spend a larger share of their disposable income on essential goods and services, which generally see greater price increases than non-essential items, those who can least afford it suffer the biggest cost-of-living impact of rising prices.

“We must place particular attention to workers at the middle and lower end of the pay scale,” Rosalia Vazquez-Alvarez, one of the report’s authors said.

“Fighting against the deterioration of real wages can help maintain economic growth, which in turn can help to recover the employment levels observed before the pandemic. This can be an effective way to lessen the probability or depth of recessions in all countries and regions,” she said.

Tyler Durden Mon, 12/05/2022 - 20:00

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