Tag Archives: COVID-19

Sweden chose ‘herd immunity’ – Australia didn’t


Sweden chose the wrong strategy

Considering how almost universally admired the Nordic countries are, Sweden has broken ranks with its neighbours, in the manner in which it has responded to the pandemic. The country has dealt with the Covid-19 virus very badly, and the proof that this is so, is its current death rate. It is close to the world’s worst.

According to the World Health Organisation, “a well-functioning healthcare system requires a steady financing mechanism, a properly-trained and adequately-paid workforce, well-maintained facilities, and access to reliable information to base decisions on.” Based on those criteria, Sweden has a modern, well-equipped, and funded, health system. It is at least the equal of Australia’s.

How does Sweden’s approach differ from ours?

It is very simple. Sweden did not lock-down. It relied on the opinion of one health bureaucrat, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, of the National Institute of Public Health, to formulate its response. It also relied on the innate good sense of its citizens, to voluntarily apply social distancing. Initially Mr Tegnall believed that it would not spread from China. Later on, he believed that contact tracing of individual cases coming from abroad, would be an effective method of stopping the contagion.

The Government, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, continued to follow his advice; it was more comfortable in those early days, and chose not to legislate for social distancing. Later, at the end of March, as the pandemic claimed more lives, it limited gatherings, from 500 down to 50, and then legislated penalties for non-compliance. It also shut down visits to aged care facilities, because there were infections at close to half of them.

It looks very like Boris Johnson’s early mis-steps in the U.K., except that they corrected their direction even more belatedly than the British. One crucial difference is that they do not seem shy about mentioning ‘herd immunity’. The Swedish Government is now claiming that it is approaching that point. At what cost? Well, that would be 1540 deaths, and counting. The death rate per million citizens is 151. Australia’s is 3.

Those bearing the burden for that herd immunity are the elderly. Swedes are at last awake to this fact, and they are not happy. The Swedish Government has listened, and is desperately playing catch-up.

Why discuss Sweden?

I mention Sweden because there is a rising impatience with the lock-down, here. We are all tired of isolation, and grumpy that we are not seeing our families and friends, or football matches even. Many business leaders are calling for selective re-opening of sectors of the economy. Many believe that we have over-reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I fear that their voices will become louder. I fear that our politicians will listen to those voices, and lose their resolve.

It is hard to trust politicians in this country. They have failed us so spectacularly over the last decade or so, that it is difficult to believe that they have our best interests in mind. Already the Murdoch press is railing at the shut-down, and the spectre of government debt is looming. Business leaders are warning of financial Armageddon, the IPA is warning that we have lost our basic freedoms, and the forces of the right are gathering steam.

I want the Government to stay the course, because this virus is so effective, and so infectious, and we are so close to victory. The Swedish example is proof that social distancing is the best way to defeat the virus, and that allowing life to go on as if nothing is happening is totally disastrous. Not to mention cavalier, in treating the lives of ANY citizens as expendable.

Scott Morrison has been something of a revelation lately. But there are elements within his own party, and within the loud right, who would undo the good work done so far. We need to continue our locked down lives, at least until we have evidence that we have neutralised the virus. Black humour in times of crisis is fine, but the U.S. is losing 3000 lives a day; on Sweden’s worst day they lost 170 out of a small population. These are not just numbers, but real people, lost forever to their families, and their communities.

This is too serious to leave to the cynics and the profit takers. The fear of a second wave is no laughing matter, as Singapore can attest; and we have barely felt the first wave. I believe in our own scientists, and our medical people, and I am prepared to back our current strategy. Our lives depend on it.

UPDATED April 22, 2020

Nearly 1800 people have now died in Sweden, making it the 14th worst affected country globally.

The death rate is 156.45 per million compared to 62.84 in Denmark, 28.41 in Norway and 17.69 in Finland, all of which have much more severe lockdowns. Its death toll is roughly three times the combined total of its Scandinavian neighbours. Australia’s death rate remains at about 3.

We have to stay the course!

Three right-wing populists – a study in idiocy


It was like getting the band back together again. Trump, Johnson and Morrison, three ageing white populists, ready to save the world. All claiming a mandate to rule us, their way. No buyers’ remorse will be permitted.

They all speak a form of English, although it is understood that their words may not make sense. They are all somewhat confused by the notion of speaking truth, and they all suffer an empathy deficit. These are indeed deflating, and confusing times.

The leader of the free world

On any reasonably intelligent reading Donald Trump is exactly what we all expected. He is narcissistic, shallow, uninterested, ignorant and dangerous. In times of crisis he was always going to struggle, because he is not equipped, intellectually or emotionally, to deliver leadership.

He has drifted from overconfident bluster that COVID-19 was just like the flu, to trying to downplay it because it rained on his ‘economic boom’ on Wall Street, to preposterous posturing, such as when he stated that he knew it was a pandemic before the rest of the world knew, although he was also telling us it was not only just like the flu, but a Democrat hoax, all at the same time. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/opinion/trump-coronavirus.html

The U.S. is now weeks behind where it should be, in containment terms. This will most probably lead to many more deaths than would have otherwise been the case.

Trump has been calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus’ for weeks, causing racist attacks on Chinese Americans, presumably by his base. This was seen as a fully conscious signal to his supporters. Today he did a full 180 degree turn, and leapt to their defence, describing them as “good people”. He did not call ‘the silent enemy’, the virus, Chinese. How long will Americans tolerate this man? There are very few groups he has NOT disrespected in his three years in power. One benefit of this virus is that it may cruel his chances of re-election.

It is difficult to tell if Donald Trump’s ‘handling’ of the COVID-19 crisis was wilfully negligent, or just plainly too uncomfortable for him. He is the successor to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, and the country deserves better.

He has caused world-wide depression and anxiety, and he has tragically delayed America’s response to the virus. This has added to the impression that America has vacated its position as the world’s leading nation state. America’s reputation may never recover.

The leader of the United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has been with the British in some form for many years. “He is thought of as a joke, but he makes people laugh” is advanced as one reason for his current electoral success. He went early on the ‘herd immunity’ strategy for the United Kingdom, until his medical people panicked, and clamoured for change.

That approach was described as “callous and dangerous”, and hopefully he will one day face harsh judgement for his shambolic response. Valuable time was lost, and the U.K. can now, probably expect a much more serious rate of infections, and deaths, due to Johnson’s original, flawed choice.

He appears to be as narcissistic, shallow, uninterested, ignorant and dangerous as Mr Trump. In times of crisis he was always going to struggle, because he is not equipped, intellectually or emotionally, to deliver leadership. Trump and Johnson are like twins, separated at birth.

The leader of “The lucky country”

The third amigo is Scott Morrison. He is a marketing careerist, a fundamentalist Christian, and a shameless prevaricator who has, until now, had no known goal beyond dodging questions from the Press, and remaining in power. He is the successor of Chifley, Curtin, Hawke and Menzies. During the 2019 election campaign he was forced to hide his entire cabinet from scrutiny, because of their lack of intellectual capacity, and or human qualities.

He is using most of that cabinet, now out of hiding, as his front-line defence of the Commonwealth. They still lack basic qualities, but Morrison likes to do most of the heavy lifting. Like most of the leadership, however, they are being held hostage by a right wing rump in the Parliament, and we are not sure of their response, to his response, to COVID-19. So far, so good.

After a disastrous summer of catastrophic bushfires, in which Morrison lost most of the public’s trust, and goodwill, and a simmering argument about mishandled taxpayer funds, used for political purposes, the virus has very quickly assumed centre stage in our consciousness. It has become a battle for survival, with the community finally catching on to the seriousness of the situation.

On most measures, Morrison has stepped up. He has lost his supercilious smirk, and he seems to have jettisoned most of his neo-liberal baggage. He recognises the dire situation, and his obsession with fiscal rectitude has been put aside. He is playing catch-up, but he is seemingly sincere. He is using medical experts, and he is increasing our medical response. He is moving his focus from financial, to basic health concerns.

There are still glimpses of the partisan warrior, and a curious reluctance to fully embrace the Keynesian orthodoxy. Sometimes his simulatory measures have an in-built delay, which defeats the purpose of action, now! Why delay the increase in the Jobseeker Allowance, static for 24 years, until April 27? It just seems ideological, and we need better, now.

On balance, the greatest problem is one of implementation. A million people lose their jobs, and the Centrelink organisation is overwhelmed. The relief money from the bush-fires has not reached the intended beneficiaries yet, two months later. Can we trust this Government to deliver now, when the virus outweighs even the bush-fires, in terms of damage to people’s lives?

Can we expect the Government to govern, and to not be tied up in internal squabbles? Can they put aside their partisan positions, and utilise every person with necessary skills? Maybe even include the Opposition? Can they manage a novel set of disastrous circumstances, with competence?

They had better, because we have not, in our lifetimes, faced such a terrible situation. And Morrison says his mission is to keep Australians safe. So I wish him luck.