Saturday, May 23, 2020

Fake news on Sweden from the New York Post

by George J. Dance

Sweden's decision to opt for voluntary social distancing rather than state-imposed lockdowns or business shutdowns to combat the coronavirus has led to a global debate, which has caught my interest. Looking for data on the subject, I found this story in Thursday's New York Post:   
Sweden’s voluntary coronavirus lockdown strategy is failing, study shows | New York Post - Laura Italiano:
May 21, 2020 - Sweden’s decision to go with voluntary lockdowns – instead of the mandatory measures implemented in other countries – has resulted in the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in Europe but little of the hoped-for 'herd immunity' benefits. A Swedish study found that only 7.3 percent of Stockholmers had developed coronavirus-fighting antibodies by late April, Reuters reports.
The low percentage runs counter to the strategy of the country’s chief epidemiologist, who’d predicted that by keeping schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open, enough people would soon develop immunity to the infection to slow the disease from spreading catastrophically.
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The term "voluntary lockdown" is incoherent. A 'lockdown' consists of a police power ordering innocent people to stay in their homes, during an emergency, under the threat of arrest. People voluntarily staying home is voluntary social distancing, not a lockdown. I rate that description of Sweden's emergency measures Partly False. 

The claim that Sweden has "the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in Europe" is clearly false as written. Sweden has more deaths per capita than Denmark or Germany, but less than Britain, France, Italy, Spain, or Belgium. That claim sources to a story in Wednesday's Post, which reported that "Sweden had the highest number of coronavirus deaths per capita in Europe over the last week" (stress added), but added that "deaths in Sweden are on the decline" (though not as fast as in Britain) – two important pieces of context that Thursday's article omitted. I rate that claim False.

I rate as True the author's claim that Sweden's chief epidemioligist, Anders Tegnall, predicted that his country's strategy would "slow the spread of the disease from spreading catastrophically,"  but as a Pants-on-Fire Lie her description of that strategy as "keeping schools, restaurants, bars, and businesses open [so that] enough people would soon develop immunity". As the following article illustrates, Tegnell's Swedish Public Health Agency has always "denied its strategy was based on the overall goal of herd immunity. A core aim was to introduce less stringent social distancing measures that could be maintained over a long period [of] time."

Sweden's strategy, like every other country's, was to 'flatten the curve' (or slow the rate of infection) to prevent its health care system from collapsing "catastrophically," the way the socialized health care sytems of Spain and Italy appeared to be collapsing at the time. It succeeded. "To a great part, we have been able to achieve what we set out to achieve," says Tegnell. "Swedish healthcare keeps on working, basically with a lot of stress, but not in a way that they turn patients away."

While the article's headline says that Sweden's coronavirus strategy is failing, it has in fact been succeeding. Sweden has achieved its goal of 'flattening the curve,' not through "herd immunity" and not through a lockdown, but through voluntary social distancing. The study did not prove that strategy failed; in fact the study said nothing about that strategy. The only thing the study did prove – that just over 7% of Swedes had caught the disease, two months into the epidemic – merely shows how successful voluntary social distancing had been in reducing infections. I rate the headline as another Pants-on-Fire Lie, and the entire article as Fake News.  

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