Saturday, November 13, 2021

Sweden shows futility of lockdown experiment

How Sweden swerved Covid disaster | Unherd - Johan Anderberg:

November 8, 2021 - "Until recently, prohibition remained the largest experiment in social engineering a democracy had ever undertaken. And then, in early 2020, a new virus began to spread from China. Faced with this threat, the world’s governments responded by closing schools, banning people from meeting, forcing entrepreneurs to shut their businesses and making ordinary people wear face masks. Like prohibition, this experiment provoked a debate. In all the democracies of the world, freedom was weighed against what was perceived as security; individual rights versus what was considered best for public health.

"Few now remember that for most of 2020, the word 'experiment' had negative connotations. That was what Swedes were accused of conducting when we — unlike the rest of the world — maintained some semblance of normality. The citizens of this country generally didn’t have to wear face masks; young children continued going to school; leisure activities were largely allowed to continue unhindered. This experiment was judged early on as 'a disaster' (Time magazine), 'the world’s cautionary tale' (New York Times), 'deadly folly' (the Guardian).... The hypothesis of the outside world was that ... absence of restrictions, open schools, reliance on recommendations instead of mandates and police enforcement would result in higher deaths than other countries. Meanwhile, the lack of freedom endured by the citizens of other countries would 'save lives'. At this stage, it was not unreasonable to conclude that Sweden would pay a high price for its freedom. Throughout the spring of 2020, Sweden’s death toll per capita was higher than most other countries.

"But the experiment didn’t end there. During the year that followed, the virus continued to ravage the world and, one by one, the death tolls in countries that had locked down began to surpass Sweden’s. Britain, the US, France, Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Belgium — countries that had variously shut down playgrounds, forced their children to wear facemasks, closed schools, fined citizens for hanging out on the beach and guarded parks with drones — have all been hit worse than Sweden. At the time of writing, more than 50 countries have a higher death rate.... If Sweden was a part of the US, its death rate would rank number 43 of the 50 states. 

Graph courtesy CTV News

"This fact is shockingly underreported. Consider the sheer number of articles and TV segments devoted to Sweden’s foolishly liberal attitude to the pandemic last year.... Suddenly, it is as if Sweden doesn’t exist.... 

"From a human perspective, it is easy to understand the reluctance to face these numbers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that millions of people have been deprived of their freedom, and millions of children have had their education gravely damaged, for little demonstrable gain. Who wants to admit that they were complicit in this? But what one American judge called the 'laboratories of democracy' have conducted their experiment — and the result is increasingly clear.

"Exactly why it turned out this way is harder to explain, but perhaps the 'noble experiment' of the 1920s in the US can offer some clues. Prohibition didn’t win because the freedom argument prevailed. Nor was it because the substance itself had become any less harmful.... The reason for the eventual demise of the alcohol ban was that it simply didn’t work. No matter what the law said, Americans didn’t stop drinking alcohol.... The mistake the American authorities made was to underestimate the complexity of society. Just because they banned alcohol did not mean that alcohol disappeared. People’s drives, desires and behaviours were impossible to predict or fit into a plan. 

"A hundred years later, a new set of authorities made the same mistake. Closing schools didn’t stop children meeting in other settings; when life was extinguished in cities, many fled them, spreading the infection to new places; the authorities urged their citizens to buy food online, without thinking about who would transport the goods from home to home.

"If the politicians had been honest with themselves, they might have foreseen what would happen. For just as American politicians were constantly caught drinking alcohol during the prohibition, their successors were caught 100 years later breaking precisely the restrictions they had imposed on everyone else. The mayors of New York and Chicago, the British government’s top advisor, the Dutch Minister of Justice, the EU Trade Commissioner, the Governor of California all broke their own rules.

"It isn’t easy to control other people’s lives. It isn’t easy to dictate desirable behaviours in a population via centralised command. These are lessons that many dictators have learned. During the Covid pandemic, many democracies have learned it too. The lesson has perhaps not yet sunk in, but hopefully it will eventually. Then perhaps it will be another 100 years before we make the same mistake again."

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