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Light-touch Sweden shows lockdown is not necessary

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Source: Our World in Data

SEVERE restrictions on civic and economic life are the only thing standing between us and the virus spiralling out of control and killing many times more people than at present. That is the foundational belief of lockdownism. Unfortunately, it is defeated by the example of any country or state that does not impose such restrictions and does not experience such an outcome. A number of states in America fit this description this winter, such as Florida, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Sweden is the main example in Europe. It is also a good comparison for the UK as it is similarly urbanised (actually slightly more, 87.7 per cent vs 83.4 per cent) and the capital Stockholm has a similar population density to London.

In the spring Sweden imposed only light restrictions, including a limit of 50 on public gatherings, but did not at any point close businesses or most schools or require people to stay at home. This light-touch approach has largely continued, although the country has come under huge pressure to impose more restrictive measures.

In the midst of a winter surge, Sweden finally passed a law that came into effect on January 10 adding some new restrictions on gathering sizes and venue capacity and enabling the Government to close businesses, though it has not yet done so. Reuters reported:

‘Sweden tightened social distancing rules for shopping centres, gyms and private gatherings on Friday and said it was ready to close businesses if needed, but stopped short of a lockdown to fight the spread of the pandemic.

‘Earlier in the day, parliament voted the Government wider powers to close businesses and limit the size of public and private gatherings as an addition to what have so-far been mostly voluntary measures to ensure social distancing.

“Today, the Government has not decided on the closure of businesses, but the Government is ready to make that kind of decision as well,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference. “This is not something that we take lightly, but people’s lives and health are at stake.”

‘From Sunday [January 10th], gyms, sports centres, shopping malls and public pools will have to set a maximum number of visitors based on their size.

‘In addition, private gatherings will also be limited to eight people, a rule which until now has only affected public events.’

Lockdown Sceptics reader whose family lives in Sweden sent us an update on the current rules.

  • We can visit family and friends – max eight people inside or out
  • Social distancing – one person per 10 square metres in shops etc.
  • Bars and cafes are open but can not serve alcohol after eight o’clock, max four people to a table
  • Restaurants open – table service only and max four people to a table
  • All shops and businesses open but must be Covid safe
  • Hairdressers and beauty parlours open but must be Covid safe
  • Nurseries and primary schools (under 13) open
  • Lower secondary schools mostly open but decision up to the school board
  • Schools over 16 years mostly closed but may take decision to open from January 25th
  • Universities closed
  • Theme parks closed
  • Gyms mainly open but must be Covid safe
  • Public swimming pools and theatres closed
  • Museums and cinemas – some open, some not. Must adhere to Covid restrictions
  • All other businesses open
  • Advice is to avoid unnecessary shopping/travel and so on
  • No requirement to wear a mask/face covering. However, it is advised on public transport during peak times and should be more substantial than a face covering

Despite these much lighter restrictions than in the UK and many other countries, Sweden has had a death toll broadly in line with other countries that locked down hard. Indeed, a study from researchers at the University of Oslo concluded that between July 2019 and July 2020 Sweden had almost no excess deaths at all.

The winter surge is currently in decline in Sweden, and was in decline prior to the new restrictions coming into effect on January 10. ICU admissions have been declining sharply across the country since the week beginning January 4, and in Stockholm, which was hit hard in spring, ICU admissions stopped rising at the beginning of December and have declined since (see below).

Source: Swedish Government

Overall excess deaths in the country have been running quite high since mid-November but are now, like ICU admissions, in decline (see below). A recent, very thorough blog post found that if you add Sweden’s all-cause mortality in 2019 and 2020 together (2019 had below-average mortality), it was about the same as the cumulative total for 2017 and 2018.

Source: Our World in Data

Sweden didn’t do nothing. But it did a lot less than many other countries including the UK, and without seeing the huge death tolls predicted by those who tell us lockdowns are the only way to ‘control’ the virus. There are places which did even less than Sweden, and their examples should also be studied for the lessons they teach us. But Sweden continues to expose the central myth of the lockdowners – that without severe restrictions things would be far worse than they are now, and so all the collateral damage must be worth it.

Stop Press: Philippe Lemoine, a PhD student at Cornell, has produced a great Twitter thread about Sweden and the unavoidable conclusion that lockdowns don’t have much impact on reducing Covid mortality.

This article first appeared on Lockdown Sceptics on January 24, 2021, and is republished by kind permission. https://lockdownsceptics.org/2021/01/24/

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Will Jones
Dr Will Jones is a maths graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017).He blogs at https://faith-and-politics.com/

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