Swedish epidemiologist admits Covid-19 mistakes

The Swedish approach to dealing with Covid-19 has received a lot of attention, both in favour and critical. Their top epidemiologist now says that more should have been done to limit deaths.

Sweden has had about 4,500 deaths to date and has a relatively high death rate per million (450).

Stuff: Swedish disease expert admits Covid-19 mistakes

Sweden’s top epidemiologist says more should have been done in his country to tackle Covid-19 at the start of the outbreak, in order to keep the death rate down.

“If we were to encounter the same illness with the same knowledge that we have today, I think our response would land somewhere in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Anders Tegnell said in an interview with Swedish Radio.

Tegnell is the brains behind Sweden’s controversial approach to fighting the virus, and the government of Stefan Lofven has deferred to the epidemiologist in its official response to the pandemic.

“Clearly, there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,” he said.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said earlier this week that the government would launch an inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In retrospect I think that all countries will see that things could have been done better, but it could take a year or two to get a full picture to judge actions against.

Health officials and politicians had to make big decisions during a rapidly evolving pandemic.

New Zealand (with about half the population of Sweden) has done fairly well so far with just 22 deaths and 1,504 cases, but what has been done here should also be scrutinised.

Australia as a whole has had fairly similar outcomes (102 deaths, 7,229 cases) but some states have done much better than others.

Queensland has had just 6 deaths (population a little less than new Zealand) and West Australia has had 9 deaths (population about half ours).

And of course the social and economic effects and a range of other factors need to be taken into account.

New Zealand doing comparatively well with Covid-19

There is a lot of debate in New Zealand over whether our relatively stringent ‘lockdown’ restrictions are justified or not. There is no way of being sure what our situation would be if we had not clamped down on people movements and business so drastically.

We have to be careful comparing with other countries because of unique conditions and different timing of the virus in different places.

But at this early stage it looks like we have been relatively successful at curbing the spread of the virus, and in particular keeping deaths down (to just one).

Currently we have 1,039 cases (to 9 am Sunday), with 15 people in hospital and 3 in intensive care.

The rate of increase in cases seems to have flattened off despite much more testing.

While cases numbers are difficult to compare we have tested 36,000 people here with a middling rate of 7,509 per million.

Australia has about 5 times our population, about 5 times confirmed cases, nearly twice our testing rate,  but a much higher death rate currently 33.  Australia has less stringent restrictions than us with more businesses still operating.

But there could be other factors.  Ten deaths in Australia are from the Ruby Princess cruise ship that ended up in Sydney. That had been in Napier, and if people had had to disembark there it could have been a major problem here instead on in Australia. Perhaps our earlier ban on cruise ships helped us but not Sydney.

Switzerland has nearly twice our population, 21,000 cases and 715 deaths with a very high 16,256 tests per million. But they border Northern Italy so will have been impacted from the huge outbreak, and they also border badly affected France.

Sweden is separated from Europe, just. They have about twice our population and have had far lighter restrictions. They have tested about half as much as us but have 6,830 cases and 400 deaths.

Scotland is also separated from Europe (just) and a slightly larger population than us. They have recorded 3,345 cases and  218 deaths. Their test statistics are part of the UK which are  low at a third ours.

Ireland has a bit bigger population (6.5 million), nearly five time the cases (about 5,000), a similar test rate and 158 deaths.

Hawaii has a population of about 1.4 million. As of 4 April they had  352 cases (in proportion to ours)  and 4 deaths which is not much different.

From this it looks like comparatively New Zealand is doing ok with Covid-19, so far. But we have a long way to go.

Sweden’s different Covid strategy looks shaky

Sweden has taken a far less restrictive approach to containing the Covid-19 virus. In Do the consequences of this lockdown really match the threat? University of Auckland senior lecturer and epidemiologist Simon Thornley writes:

We don’t want to squash a flea with a sledgehammer and bring the house down. I believe that other countries, such as Sweden, are steering a more sensible course through this turbulent time.

It will probably take months to see which approach to containing the virus, limiting deaths and not damaging the economy too much worked best, but the situation in Sweden doesn’t look that good at the moment compared to New Zealand, and not great compared to many countries.

From the link in Thornley’s commment:

Universities have been closed, and on Friday, the government tightened the ban on events to limit them to no more than 50 people. But if you develop symptoms, you can still go back to work or school just two days after you feel better. If a parent starts showing symptoms, they’re allowed to continue to send their children to school.

“I feel that the Swedish government is handling this very reasonably,” argues Erika Lindquist, who is drinking with her brother and Danish husband at another table at the Nyhavn. “They’re listening to the health department; they’re listening to the experts they have on hand.”

There is criticism, however. More than 2,000 Swedish university researchers published a joint letter on Wednesday questioning the Public Health Agency’s position, while the previous week saw leading epidemiologists attack the agency in emails leaked to Swedish television.

It has only been in the past couple of days that the death toll has started to increase significantly, rising by a third in a single day on Thursday and Friday, with 92 people now dead and 209 in intensive care. As he announced the tighter restrictions on Friday, the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, warned that the coming weeks and months would be tough.

This chart shows that number of cases in Sweden are 21st on the list but that’s in part because they are not testing as much as other countries, and their cases and deaths are climbing.

From https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries – daily totals are from GMT+0 (that’s 1pm yesterday NZ time).

Also, while Swedish deaths per 1 m population are lower than the worst countries in Europe and Iran, they are higher than most other countries.

And there are other opinions on how well Sweden is doing.

Forbes: Why Sweden’s Coronavirus Approach Is So Different From Others

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven asked all citizens to avoid non-essential travel and for those who feel ill or are over the age of 70 to stay home, but has so far stopped short of implementing many of the strict emergency measures seen in Denmark and Norway. “Us adults need to be exactly that: adults. Not spread panic or rumours. No one is alone in this crisis, but each person carries a heavy responsibility,” he said during a recent televised speech.

But

Despite the government choosing to issue guidance over the implementation of restrictions, many locals are taking things into their own hands. The public transport company of Stockholm reported a fall in passenger numbers of 50% last week.

There’s mounting criticism among doctors and academics on Sweden’s “wait and see” approach. While Denmark and Norway closed their borders and imposed strict regulations on their residents, Sweden has done relatively little.

Is the strategy working?

According to the Swedish Institute of Public Health’s daily briefing of March 30, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the country has passed 4,000. The number is very similar to the infection rate in Norway, yet twice as many people live in Sweden.

However, Akinmade Åkerström says there’s a simple reason for the relatively low infection numbers: “Very few people are being tested so it’s impossible to know the true spread of the illness.”

While the infection numbers are difficult to compare, the difference in death rate is more clear-cut. At the time of writing, 146 people with COVID-19 have died in Sweden. In Norway, that number stands at 32.

Those are the current totals. Norway’s deaths per 1m population are 6.

Finland currently has 13 deaths, 2 per 1m population.

Two days ago, the Swedish Public Health Agency’s Karin Tegmark Wisell said in a radio interview that it was “too soon to tell” if the Swedish approach is proving successful.

It’s too soon to tell about a lot of things about Covid. Sweden may prove to have taken a more balanced successful approach than other countries, but if deaths keep rising they may change tack and try to clamp down like many other countries.

The population of Sweden is about 10 million, about, a bit over double New Zealand. They have a lot higher case and death rates, but being close to the big problem areas in Europe they are probably ahead of us in spread, so a direct comparison isn’t possible.

Sweden has over seven times as many active cases, and 306 serious/critical cases compared to 2 in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s single death so far and a flattening of case growth suggests that our lockdown approach has been at least no worse than Sweden’s far more unrestricted strategy at this stage, but it will take time to compare them properly


UPDATE:

England, Croatia win world cup quarter finals

In the early hours (NZ time) England beat Sweden 2-0 in the third football world cup semi final. Hoes of something great are rising in England.

WTF is SWEENG?

England’s semi-final opponent is still to be determined, with the Russia versus Croatia game due to start soon.


Russia v Croatia 1-1 after 75 minutes of game time.

Still 1-1 at the end of normal time, so the game will go in to extra time.

Both scored goals in extra time, ending 2-2, so now a penalty shootout.

Croatia win the shootout 4-3.

Russia did very well to get this far, they were ranked 70 going into the tournament. Croatia was 20.

Semi finalists:

  • France versus Belgium (Wednesday 6:00 am NZ time)
  • England versus Croatia (Thursday 6;00 am NZ  time)

 

“The role and potential of women in sustainable urban mobility”

It is difficult to understand what this is about let alone what benefits may come of it.

Julie Anne Genter: Minister to speak on women and transport at international events

Minister Genter will give the keynote address at the Women Mobilise Women conference, organised by the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative. The initiative aims to generate a debate on the role and potential of women in sustainable urban mobility.

“This is the first conference to empower women in transport and I am excited to be addressing this event focused on implementing sustainable mobility solutions on the ground by women, for women,” Ms Genter said.

I guess Genter will explain to the conference what she means, or maybe attendees already understand this sort of language.

I don’t know why women need to look separately at sustainable mobility solutions in urban areas. Separate women’s carriiges, buses or cycle lanes?

Genter will then go to something that looks more understandable and worthwhile:

The Minister will then join Ministers and government officials from around the world at the 2018 International Transport Forum Summit (ITF). This year’s theme is transport safety and security.

Minister Genter will participate in sessions addressing climate change and transport, ensuring long-term resilience of transport infrastructure funding, and how to increase safety on city streets.

Following the ITF Summit, Minister Genter will travel to Denmark and Sweden to meet with officials and experts on transport safety, particularly to discuss their implementation of ‘Vision Zero’ which aims to achieve a transport system with no fatalities or serious injuries.

“Sweden is one of the safest countries in the world having cut its road death rate by investing in safety infrastructure and setting safer speed limits. Earlier this year I announced that the Government will investigate adopting Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ approach to road safety in New Zealand. I am looking forward to learning from their experience while I am there,” Ms Genter said.

It is good to look at successful road safety initiatives elsewhere in the world.

I hope Genter learns a more realistic approach than “aims to achieve a transport system with no fatalities or serious injuries”. Goals are best when they look achievable.

I think a better goal would be to halve deaths and injuries in x number of years. If successful that can be repeated to slash the road toll, but it can realistically never reach zero.

And a focus on men might make sense where road safety is concerned, given they are generally more dangerous on the roads.

Sweden warn’s about “security situation in neighborhood”

Sweden is bringing back conscription and is sending out leaflets urging citizens to prepare for “different kinds of attacks on society and Sweden”.  One concern is “Russia aggression”.

CNN: Sweden to publish leaflets warning citizens over potential war

Sweden is preparing to issue leaflets to 4.7 million households this spring amid growing fears it could be dragged into the perils of war.

The leaflets, which urge citizens to prepare for “crisis and catastrophes in peacetime, but also for different kinds of attacks on society and Sweden,” is the latest step in the country’s revamped defense strategy in response to perceived Russian aggression.The pamphlet is prompted partly by the “security situation in our neighborhood,” meaning the Baltic area, a Civil Contingencies Agency spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.

The leaflets, which will be published later this year, aim to educate Swedes on how to prepare in case “their world gets turned upside down,” and ask municipal regions to ready previous Cold War bunkers.

According to a spokesperson for the Civil Contingencies Agency, the literature will also provide practical tips to ensure citizens have all the necessary food, water and blankets stocked at home.

The country suspended conscription in 2010 and instead adopted a recruitment system which relied on volunteers.
But it changed tack in March 2017, announcing conscription would return in 2018.

In May 2017 Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told CNN: “The Russian regime has showed they are ready to use military powers to fulfill political goals.”

We often don’t appreciate how lucky we are here on the other side of the world.

Sweden drops charges against Assange

Sweden has dropped the charges against Julian Assange relating to allegations made seven years ago.

Stuff: Julian Assange all smiles after seven-year rape investigation is dropped

Sweden has dropped its investigation into a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who says he won’t forgive or forget the slandering of his name following an “important victory”.

The country’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Marianne Ny, made the announcement in Stockholm on Friday.

“Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

Ny said it was “not possible to take any further steps that would move the investigation forward”.

“All prospects of pursuing the investigation are now exhausted,” she said. “It is no longer proportionate to maintain the arrest of Julian Assange in his absence.

“To continue with legal proceedings would require Julian Assange’s personal appearance in court. There is no longer any reason to continue with the investigation.”​

Assange, 45, who has been in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012, where he was granted political asylum, tweeted a smiling image of himself after the news broke.

In February last year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Assange was in effect being arbitrarily detained against international law.

He wasn’t detained, I thought he chose to live in the Ecudorian Embassy to avoid facing the investigation.

So that is now over for Assange, but it may not be the end of his problems.

‘REAL RISK’ OF ARREST, EXTRADITION

​Swedish prosecutors interviewed Assange at the embassy last November and in mid-March received a full translation of the interview, which they have since been reviewing.

In May, Assange’s lawyers asked the Stockholm District Court to review the detention order and arrest warrant against him.

They argued that the US had expressed they were seeking his extradition to the US over alleged crimes relating to Wikileaks’ publication of classified documents.

Assange’s lawyer Per Samuelson said Assange faced a “real risk” of extradition from Sweden. He argued his client’s remand status should be changed so he could leave the embassy to travel to Ecuador.

He is limited to where he can travel in the world to avoid the possibility of extradition proceedings.

However Assange is not likely to celebrate by immediately leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he would still be arrested.

In a tweet, Wikileaks said the “focus now moves to the UK”.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions has said arresting Assange was “a priority”, over alleged crimes relating to Wikileaks’ publication of classified documents.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service, which has been staking out the embassy for five years, said there was still an outstanding warrant for Assange’s arrest in the UK for skipping bail. Wikileaks claimed the UK would arrest Assange “regardless”.

He may not find it easy to get out of Britain.

Melinda Taylor, a member of Assange’s legal team, said their next step was to push for the US to “clarify” Assange’s legal status.

“Their prosecution has been going on since at least 2010, that’s a hell of a long time,” she said. “He has been deprived of the ability to defend himself.”

His lawyers would approach the Department of Justice in the US and request that they either confirm their decision to seek Assange’s extradition, or drop the case altogether, she said.

Assange argues that he and Wikileaks are protected under freedom of speech laws, so he has no case to answer in the US.

Asked if Assange would consider agreeing to extradition to fight the case conventionally in the US courts, Taylor said Assange had already indicated earlier this year that he would do so “if he could rely on standard due process protections and assert a public interest defence”

Assange’s lawyers will also call on the UK to drop the outstanding arrest warrant against him.

They have a potential legal avenue: to approach the courts arguing that the Swedish decision constitutes a significant change in circumstances that means the warrant should be reviewed.

 

Swedish PM on terrorism and immigration

Following the truck attack in Sweden on Friday Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has spoken on terrorism and immigration, covered separately in contrasting reports.

Rakhmat Akilov, a failed asylum seeker from Uzbekistan, is currently in custody on suspicion of carrying out the attack.

UK Express: ‘Terrorism will NEVER defeat Sweden’ PM Stefan Löfven vows after Stockholm lorry attack

Speaking to SVT on Sunday evening, the Swedish PM said terrorism will never defeat the Nordic country and it will remain united in the face of such atrocities.

The declaration came after Mr Löfven was asked: “The Swedish people have shown solidarity and conciliation after this attack but the terrorists want to increase fear, to create division in society. How do you view this risk?”

To which he responded: “I believe today’s [gathering] was a clear message from Stockholm and Sweden that we intend to keep our open, warm and inclusive society.

“That was the message. Terrorism will never defeat Sweden.”

Speaking at a Social Democrat party conference this weekend, a visibly moved Mr Löfven also expressed his pride in Sweden for its response to the attack.

He said: “I am proud to have you as fellow countrymen. You can take this pride [in your actions] with you for the rest of your lives.

“Friends, this is our fundamental challenge, as social democrats and as Swedes, during this conference and this decade. We are here to respond to this uncertainty.”

The Swedish PM added the work to combat terrorism must continue across party lines: “We will now invite the other parties that passed the national strategy against terrorism so that this work can be continued.

“We must prevent, obstruct and defend against terrorism with all the resources at our disposal. We will chase these killers with all the strength of our democracy.”

But Fox News focuses more on the immigration angle in Stockholm terror: Sweden will ‘never go back’ to mass immigration, PM reacts

Sweden will “never go back to the days of mass immigration” after it emerged the Stockholm attacker was a failed asylum seeker, the Swedish prime minister has said.

Stefan Löfven spoke out against the recent mass influx of immigrants coming in to Sweden during the 2015 migrant crisis.

The Swedish Prime Minister said: “Sweden will never go back to the [mass migration] we had in autumn 2015, never. Everyone who has been denied a permit should return home.

“This makes me feel enormously frustrated. If you have been denied a visa you are supposed to leave the country.”

He added: “Terrorists want us to be afraid, want us to change our behaviour, want us to not live our lives normally, but that is what we’re going to do. Terrorists can never defeat Sweden, never.”

But terrorists can have a significant impact. Like cause a change of approach to immigration.

Sweden, a country of 10 million people, took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015 – the highest per capita number in Europe.

There are more than 3,000 migrants reportedly living unlawfully in Stockholm alone and an estimated 12,000 migrants awaiting deportation from the country.

That’s a lot of asylum seekers and deportations to try to handle – the majority of whom don’t resort to terrorism. It can be difficult identifying and dealing with the risks.

Rioting in Sweden

There are reports of rioting in Sweden in an immigrant area in Stockholm.

The Telegraph: Swedish police investigate riot in predominantly immigrant Stockholm suburb

Swedish police on Tuesday were investigating a riot that broke out overnight in a predominantly immigrant suburb in Stockholm after officers arrested a suspect on drug charges.

The clashes started late Monday when a police car arrested a suspect and people started throwing stones at them in Rinkeby, north of Stockholm. Unidentified people, including some wearing masks, also set cars on fire and looted shops.

One officer was slightly injured when a rock hit his arm and one person was arrested for throwing rocks, police spokesman Lars Bystrom said Tuesday.

Police were investigating three cases of violent rioting, assaulting a police officer, two assaults, vandalism and aggravated thefts, he said.

“This kind of situation doesn’t happen that often but it is always regrettable when it happens,” Bystrom said.

He declined to give further details, saying the episode would be investigated.

No indication of who started the rioting and who became involved, nor of their ethnicity.

The incident comes after US president Donald Trump was widely ridiculed for comments suggesting some kind of attack had occurred in Sweden on Saturday night.

It may be that this sort of thing is common in Sweden.

If not, this is suspiciously coincidental to the Trump claims.  Is this some opportunist stirring?

More details and facts are needed before jumping to conclusions.

Trump on Swedish ‘incident’ and immigration problems

Claims of immigration related crime in Sweden isn’t new online, but it does appear to be new when the US president makes claims about it that seem to have no factual basis (about another country, Donald Trump seems to lack a factual basis to many things he talks about in the US).

Reuters: Trump comment about immigration ‘problems’ baffles Sweden

U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that Sweden experienced an immigration-related security incident prompted a baffled response from the Scandinavian country on Sunday as diplomats asked for an explanation and citizens responded with amusement.

Trump cited Sweden as a country that had experienced problems with immigrants in remarks at a rally on Saturday.

“You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Trump said. “Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

That appeared to confuse the Swedish government, which asked the U.S. State Department to explain what the new president meant.

“We are trying to get clarity,” Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson said.

Swedish news sources made no mention of a recent terrorism attack or other high-profile crime in the country.

“Nothing spectacular happened in Sweden on Friday,” wrote the Local, an English-language website in Sweden.

Fox News ran a report on Friday night about alleged migrant-related crime problems in the country.

Sweden’s crime rate has fallen since 2005, official statistics show, even as the country has taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq.

Trump has apparently ‘clarified’ where he got his information – Fox News.

The Hill: Trump clarifies remarks on Sweden: I got it from Fox News story

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt also questioned Trump’s claims.

“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” he tweeted.

This would seem to be the Fox News item: What the US could learn from Sweden’s refugee crisis

Feb. 17, 2017 – 6:15 – Sweden has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees and rape and violence has since skyrocketed. A journalist took a close look at Sweden’s refugee crisis and at what ‘extreme vetting’ really means #Tucker

I think there is some debate about crime statistics in Sweden, especially in relation to immigration.

It also seems to be new that a US president bases commentary of foreign issues in Fox News coverage.