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be like sweden or be like china

100 years ago in NY City, 20,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue in protest against the greatest public health policy experiment in history. For a year the USA had prohibited alcoholic consumption. From a public health perspective it was reasonable. Alcohol is a dangerous substance; disease, violence, poverty and crime are bound up with it.

Until recently, Prohibition remained the largest experiment in social engineering a democracy had ever undertaken. But then, threatened by a new virus, the world’s governments responded with lockdowns and facemasks.
Adapted from an article by Swedish journalist Johan Anderberg.

Few now remember how Sweden was accused of experimenting on her own citizens. Unlike the rest of the world, Sweden maintained some semblance of normality. Swedes generally didn’t have to wear facemasks, children went to school, leisure activities continued.

This experiment was deemed “a disaster” (Time magazine), “the world’s cautionary tale” (NY Times), “deadly folly” (the Guardian). In Germany,
Focus magazine described the policy as “sloppiness”. Italy’s La Repubblica concluded that Sweden had made a dangerous mistake.

They claimed liberty would be too costly. The absence of restrictions and a reliance on recommendations instead of mandates would result in excess deaths. And throughout the spring of 2020, Sweden’s death toll was higher than most other countries.

But during 2021 the virus continued to ravage the world. One by one, death tolls in countries that had locked down surpassed that of Sweden: Britain, USA, France, Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Belgium have all suffered more than Sweden. At the time of this writing, more than 50 countries now have a higher death rate.

If you measure excess mortality for the whole of 2020-21,
Sweden is in 21st place out of 31 European countries, one of the lowest death rates. If Sweden was part of the USA, its excess death rate would rank it 43rd of the 50 states—42 US states have higher excess mortality than does Sweden.

These facts have been canceled.

When the Wall Street Journal published a report from Portugal, it described how that country “offered a glimpse” of what it would be like to live with the virus: vaccine passports and facemasks. Nowhere did the WSJ report that in Sweden you can go to football matches without wearing a facemask. Or that Sweden—with a smaller proportion of Covid deaths over the course of the pandemic—had ended virtually all restrictions.

More than a year ago the state of Florida—inspired by Sweden—removed most of its restrictions and allowed schools, restaurants and leisure parks to reopen. Condemnation from the media was swift. Meanwhile NY’s Gov Cuomo got a
book deal plus an Emmy Award (subsequently rescinded) for his “leadership lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The result of Cuomo’s leadership: 0.29% of NY state’s residents died of Covid-19. The figure for Florida: 0.27%. But this fact has been cancelled.

It's human nature to avoid facts that disagree with one's opinions. Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that millions of people have been deprived of liberty, and millions of children have had their education damaged, for little demonstrable gain.

The mistake governments made was to underestimate the complexity of society. And just as American politicians were repeatedly caught drinking alcohol during Prohibition, 100 years later their successors have been repeatedly caught violating their own pandemic restrictions.

It isn’t easy to control other people’s lives. It isn’t easy to dictate desirable behaviors. Still, a haunting question remains: Why did our leaders so quickly and so vigorously adopt the pandemic tactics of China?

Dan Nygaard