COVID19 update, November 2, 2020: opposition to lockdowns crosses political boundaries; interview with Swedish coronavirus czar Anders Tegnell

(1) Dr. John Campbell has an update on the COVID19 pandemic in Europe.

He talks not only about the dire situation in the UK and in Belgium (where hospitals are presently overloaded and in danger of being overwhelmed), but about the surprising success of “another island nation, Taiwan”. Sure, preparedness from the 2003 brush with SARS-CoV-1 played a role, but I suspect there is more to the Taiwan story (and the story of East Asian countries more generally) that meets the eye.

Apropos the UK, however, Prof. Tim Spector of the ZOE Covid symptom tracking project, while acknowledging COVID19 cases in the UK are steadily rising, denies that they are surging.

(2) It is received wisdom that opposition to lockdowns is a phenomenon of the libertarian right. Think again. Here is an interview with Prof. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, one of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration and a staunch opponent of lockdowns. She openly describes herself as identifying with the far left, and points out that she disagrees with Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage on pretty much everything except their shared opposition to lockdowns (in her case, because she believes they cause more collateral mortality than they save direct COVID19 mortality). “This is an issue that transcends [traditional] politics.”

Note she does not say “do nothing”. She however says that instead of losing tons of money (and ruining livelihoods of many people) in lockdowns and having to spend even more money on relief payments, it would be better to have the economy running and spend the money on protecting the most vulnerable.

My own take? Once again, we see that the primary fault line in politics increasingly runs, not between traditional left and right, but between populists and transnational elitist “Brahmandarins”. The latter class are quite cool with months-long lockdowns because they can work from home just fine and lose no income , and in general believe in ruling and regulating the rest of us “for our own good” and “to protect us” (from things like stories in the New York Post that might make you vote against your “interest” ;)).

(3) Karen Donfried, President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, here interviews Dr. Anders Tegnell, the Swedish chiefstate epidemiologist.

Among other things, he makes it clear that Sweden is not the straw man of “neglect” that lockdowners and lockdown skeptics alike make it out to be. Indeed, by various metrics, Swedes were socially distancing better than people in many countries that did have lockdowns. The main difference: they relied on dialogue and persuasion rather than coercion. (Plus an unspoken element always present in high-trust societies: peer pressure.) By way of non-COVID illustration, he mentions childhood vaccinations: you don’t get punished in Sweden if you don’t bring your children in, yet compliance rate is 98% (well in excess of even first-order herd immunity thresholds).

He acknowledges Sweden had a serious problem in care homes for the elderly (I have covered that repeatedly here) which led to a substantial percentage of 1st-wave mortality, and that after certain changes were implemented in care homes in may mortality there plummeted. Now, while other countries are battling the 2nd wave, Swedish COVID19 wards only have a few patients each, despite rising “cases”. He points out many of the new cases started after college started, in large part from extracurricular social activities. But in those age brackets, mortality of the disease is very, very low.

When asked how lower-trust societies like the USA can emulate this, Dr. Tegnell answers a diplomatic, subdued, Swedish version of “you know, you could try talking to your citizens as adults for a change and treating them as adults, rather than herd them around like sheep”.

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