by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 17
April 2020

Swedish expert: why lockdowns are the wrong policy

Freddie Sayers speaks to Professor Johan Giesecke, who says that our policy is not driven by evidence
by Freddie Sayers

That was one of the more extraordinary interviews we have done here at UnHerd.

Professor Johan Giesecke, one of the world’s most senior epidemiologists, advisor to the Swedish Government (he hired Anders Tegnell who is currently directing Swedish strategy), the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and an advisor to the director general of the WHO, lays out with typically Swedish bluntness why he thinks:

  • UK policy on lockdown and other European countries are not evidence-based
  • The correct policy is to protect the old and the frail only
  • This will eventually lead to herd immunity as a “by-product”
  • The initial UK response, before the “180 degree U-turn”, was better
  • The Imperial College paper was “not very good” and he has never seen an unpublished paper have so much policy impact
  • The paper was very much too pessimistic
  • Any such models are a dubious basis for public policy anyway
  • The flattening of the curve is due to the most vulnerable dying first as much as the lockdown
  • The results will eventually be similar for all countries
  • Covid-19 is a “mild disease” and similar to the flu, and it was the novelty of the disease that scared people.
  • The actual fatality rate of Covid-19 is the region of 0.1%
  • At least 50% of the population of both the UK and Sweden will be shown to have already had the disease when mass antibody testing becomes available

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  • What impresses me most here in Sweden is that daily press conferences are given by the experts, not the politicians. This is a traditional approach in Sweden.

  • His entire argument is based on the idea that you can’t get out of lockdown without just letting people get sick. S. Korea are proving every day that this is not true. They are down to 18 new cases yesterdays. So when this guy claims that S Korea have given up trying to contain the virus (around 19 minutes in the video), alarm bells ring. S. Korea had a light lockdown, intense testing and smart, practical policies. Today, they just reopened the Apple store, first in the world to reopen. I don’t see any reason why their death toll will be any higher in April 2021.

    Of course if your govt has no intention of learning from S. Korea, then yeah, you have no safe route out of lockdown.

  • First, thanks for a very good and informative and well conducted and civilised interview in which nobody interrupted one another, so that people could calmly think rather than merely emote, including viewers of the video.

    My conclusion having watched and listened to the interview very carefully is there’s actually a very powerful reason to end the lockdown almost immediately, both fully and permanently (to the extent individuals want to, people should still be left to self-isolate, wear masks etc, if they wish to), which is probably the only point of disagreement I have with Professor Giesecke, who admittedly has to “cover himself” as a public figure.

    And that reason is the current NHS state of preparedness (given they get more protective equipment that is).

    That is to say, right now, the NHS has oriented itself almost entirely to dealing with COVID-19, and these measures cannot be sustained.

    Millions are waiting for tests and operations and care for countless other ailments and diseases, and for example, when the death toll from those who are not now being tested and treated for various other diseases, which if not detected or treated soon enough we are almost 100% sure are going to kill them, it will likely far exceed even the total deaths from covid-19 whenever that is finally counted.

    So if we are going to see a further spike in patients needing ICU treatment due to covid-19 infection, the sooner the better.

    And while the population has for the moment bought the mantra “we must protect lives, forget the economy” as soon as they wake up to a world in a few weeks time in which millions (who don’t yet know it) may not have jobs to go back to, unless it can be proven somehow that these measures really did save huge numbers of lives, which I doubt it ever can be, and the Swedish “experiment” suggests to not be the case, the wisdom of these measures that have been taken are going to be regarded by the public as very seriously in doubt.

    And then the same public which has (allegedly, I’m not wholly convinced) been baying for lockdowns, will then be “baying for blood” if they see their lives resemble some post-apocalypse scene, economically speaking.

    Yes, it would be nice to live in a totally safe sanitised world in which none of us ever caught infectious diseases, and by the way, it is not at all a new phenomenon that humans (especially in families) blame one another for giving them an infectious disease.

    But beyond measures like hand washing and avoiding touching your face (thereby allowing the virus to enter your nose or mouth) if you haven’t washed your hands first after possible contact, nobody is in the long term going to be willing to adopt these restrictive measures.

    Or are we willing to all wear face masks permanently?

    Is that a reasonable expectation for everyone to wear face masks for the rest of their lives in any public place?

    Because no doubt that would reduce the spread of infections.

    But even then would it actually stop us getting anything in the long term or only delay it?

    Is it actually ever realistic we can stop the spread of any one of these numerous infections very long?

    Because for example, as it is clear that breathing in close proximity and touching another person is more or less a guaranteed way to spread an infection, that would mean that not only should there be a total ban on handshaking, but also upon hugging, kissing and above all sexual activity between unmarried persons, or those not committed to a long term relationship.

    I am not in the least joking, because those really are the lengths we would have to go to in order to stop the spread of a virus successfully.

    So in fact, the people who are the most likely to spread infections of any kind are those who are even hugging or kissing people they are not in a steady relationship with, let alone having sex with them.

    The evidence of that for example is that (according to the WHO) currently about 37 million are HIV positive, and up to a million a year are still dying of HIV induced AIDS, and no vaccine has been developed since HIV first appeared around 1981, so that’s nearly 40 years of science failing to achieve that.

    So unless we never reopen bars, club or even secondary school, colleges, universities, and even workplaces – all of which places hugging and kissing goes on, often followed by sex acts somewhere – there is no chance whatsoever of stopping any virus of this kind.

    And it is made far worse by the fact most people will not even know they have it.

    And even if they test negative for this particular virus, what about one that appears next year, or for all we know there is even one or several other viruses currently going round (as would be normal annually) that are not on the government or medical radar because they’ve been obsessively focusing on covid-19 to the exclusion of everything else.

    In people’s already extremely complicated and difficult lives, this has now thrown up a multitude of new problems they didn’t have before, to which there seem to be no obvious solution.

    But there is one – it’s very simple – we just get on with life as we did before.

    And those who are scared of the virus can if they please carry on social distancing and wearing face masks and Hazmat suits and hiding in their homes in fear, etc, etc. (bear in mind a lot of people, the “hypochondriacs” were already approximately doing this long before covid-19) but don’t expect everybody else to.

    So of course in practice, the government cannot do exactly what I suggest, as it can’t admit it has made a catastrophic error, by basically giving in to a panic knee-jerk response reaction that spread like a disease of a different sort from one government to the next, so we’ve just had government by hysteria and not reason.

    In fact, Professor Giesecke points out that the Imperial College study that justified the panic and measures in this country, was little better sourced than the “dodgier dossier” alleging we were all “45 minutes away from death from Saddam’s WMDs” which Tony Blair used to justify the Iraq war.

    But note how this time there was not even a debate or vote in parliament, which in fact makes it much worse in terms of government unaccountability.

    So the real truth is the government and the media could have reported and responded to the average seasonal flu on any previous occasion in exactly the same way as they have reported and responded to this, and caused exactly the same panic.

    And if we don’t face up to that and get a grip, they may next year be trying to do the same again.

    But I doubt that, when people see the economic havoc likely caused by this, as well as quite possibly a lot of social unrest that will result if that damage turns out to be as had as some experts fear.

    i.e. when compared, the thing that most people fear (unless they are in the seriously at risk group, i.e. over 70s, 80s ,or with impaired immune systems) is loss of financial security and crime and not a respiratory infection virus.

    And one of the unintended consequences of this is likely to be a surge in crime.

    Because while the “I’m alright jack” people who currently think and are right in thinking they still have a job to go back to may not be too greatly affected (though may see salary cuts and tax rises), the millions who may have lost jobs and businesses are going to see no other way but some kind of crime to try to maintain their former lifestyle.

    And we may also be seeing the numbers of beggars on the streets swelling from hundreds to thousands in any large area like a city centre, and they may well be more aggressive than before in their desperation.

    I don’t really blame Boris Johnson in the sense I doubt any other of our current politicians would have done any better.

    But in reality, he didn’t lead the mob as a true leader should, a genuine Churchill, he let himself be led by the mob, and gave in to their hysterical demands (personally I am not sure it was the demands of the public, but rather the media and opposition parties).

    Demands that he protect them from what we could not ultimately protect them from (i.e. the spread of any virus that is so contagious and easily spread), and did not in the way that Churchill also would have done confront them with the terrible cost that would have to be paid if he gave into their hysterical panic driven demands.

    And in time, I think President Trump will see the same, that though it may well have cost him his presidency if he had not complied with the panicking public demand, it may cost it him anyway in the aftermath, as may happen with Boris Johnson also.

    Mr Johnson needs to “reopen Britain” within 2 or 3 weeks and fully so, and stop pretending we can control a virus that according to the professor has likely infected half the population already and so is already totally beyond control.

    He should open the schools this Thursday, making it a short first school week back; and then the business and shops the week after that; and then finally the pubs, restaurants and churches, concert hall and sports stadiums; perhaps keeping attendance at the latter mass events to say 33% of capacity, to enable people to still social distance for say a month, and then within a month everything should be back to “normal.”

    And the media should be given a stern warning not to cause any more panic, and not to policitise this matter further.

    But instead the focus should be on getting everybody back to work or reopening their businesses to get the economy working, which no doubt now will take probably at least several months to a year to fully do, and sadly in numerous cases may not ever be possible.

    But if taxes have to rise a lot – which I am certain they will have to – on those still working or in business, then that will require a certain amount of probably much needed austerity in any case (I mean austerity on the wealthier people mostly, not on those already suffering unduly from it).

    We need to face the reality we either spend hundreds of billions annually on things we don’t need – e.g. 20 or 50 pairs of shoes, when we only need 5 or 10 – or an Iphone 29 million, when an Iphone 4 or 5 still does 95% of what the later ones do, and so on – or instead we have properly funded public services like the NHS, and the ones that collect our rubbish and keep our roads in repair and our water pure and drains clear (so we don’t get flooded so easily) and so on.

    So if we use this catastrophe rightly, we can (though it may take some time) come out at the end with a better world, a saner world, and indeed a more tolerant one, in which we currently fear to hug even a friend that they might give us a deadly disease (extremely unlikely).

    For I think everybody is agreed, that apart from hanging on to life itself, the thing we want most of all is to be socially accepted, to be loved and to be able to express love.

    And that is going to be very hard or impossible if we allow ourselves to be so afraid of our fellow man and woman as a possible disease carrier, that we now see them as an enemy on sight unless we check on our phone app and see that they are safe, maybe from covid-19, but impossible to know if they are not carrying a thousand other viruses that we can’t possible test everyone for.

    So it appears to me everyone has a choice – either don your Hazmat suit for the rest of your life, or let’s go back to normal life and loving our neighbour instead of fearing him or her.

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