Just when we thought liberal democracies meant real freedom was an absolute written into human rights stone, by mid-March this year almost all OECD countries had implemented the most draconian reversal of lockdowns on every single human being at a combination of school, university, workplace, bars, music events, sport, travel, public transport, public events, regional travel, and, well, breathing funny.
And what’s the social democratic exception?
They just played it cool and went voluntary everything. Sure, some restrictions like no gatherings over 50, no bar service, distance learning. But not locked in your bedrooms and studies grounded like a child by the Great Patriarch State.
And total-surveillance apps? Pfft.
They retained freedom and dealt with it like grown ups.
There’s nothing official-policy like on herd immunity, but Anders Tegnell their chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency has projected that the city of Stockholm could reach herd immunity as early as this month.
The Stockholm University mathematician has calculated that 40% immunity in the capital would be enough to stop the virus. By June.
Unlike most other countries I can think of, they have preserved a semblance of economic and social and political normalcy – and kept their per capital death rate lower than that of Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
They haven’t protected their elderly and immigrant populations well.
In hindsight the country’s higher death rate in limited areas of the population will be small compared to most.
We’ll be as much a global outlier for the opposite reason: we gave up the most freedom with the least consultation, got our economy smashed the fastest and hardest – and came out with few deaths and no herd immunity at all. Just sheer governmental force delivering sheer purity.
For almost all other countries in the world, containment was doomed unless the state took every ounce of freedom that it could from you.
When the second wave comes, Sweden will have the worst of this behind it.
Sweden has boosted immunity among the young and healthy while also flattening the curve. The country’s intensive care units have not been overrun, and even stressed hospital staff had not had to juggle daycare for their children because daycare and lower schools stayed open.
New Zealand and Sweden and probably Taiwan are going to be the epidemic policy petri-dish for the world in 2021. Donald Trump slagged Sweden off but is pretty much trying to go down this path – despite the sensible resistance of officials given they will hit 100,000 dead in about 10 days.
Within 6 months the world will look back (it’s never fair these comparisons, but they’re going to happen), and they will look back on difficult measures:
They will all feed into the rights and wrongs of how to deal with the next one that’s coming as sure as the sun rises. Estimates from the OECD suggest that every month of pandemic-related restrictions will shrink the economies of advanced countries by 2%.
It’s going to be worse here and in Australia. If we worried about the left-friendly governments getting smashed after the GFC and big populist uprisings to the right after the GFC, well, this is much worse and the breeding ground for more Trumps awaits.
If other countries follow the Swedish path to herd immunity, the total cost of the pandemic will decrease, and it will likely end sooner. Without herd immunity developing and a vaccine not apparent, the wave will keep rolling across the globe.
Now, Sweden is a high-trust environment, and that’s helped. We’re more high-obedience apparently.
And Swedish people are generally healthier than us or many other countries on average. We’re poorer, fatter, more heart-sick, more diabetic, and smoke and vape more. Their policy would not be too good here on those counts. We were right for us.
But we lost so much freedom so fast, so much of our economy so fast, and this kind of thing doesn’t come back for years. We shouldn’t be cocky – we should recognise that we are much more of a policy outlier than Sweden is.
Sweden has made missteps. But their emphasis is likely to be the future global emphasis: helping people stay safe and out of harm’s way rather than locking the entire society down. Without a vaccine for a long time, protecting the vulnerable and going for herd immunity is the likely path.
As we have seen even in obedient New Zealand, the pain of lockdowns grow just intolerable on all kind of levels. So managing rather than defeating the virus is going to be what pretty much every other country except New Zealand is going to be doing.
Sweden is showing the world what surfing the curve of the virus and the curve of freedom really looks like.