Norway’s top epidemiologist: Sweden handled Covid well
Preben Aavitsland says its response was unfairly demonised
One of Norway’s leading epidemiologists has claimed that criticism of Sweden’s Covid strategy was excessive. Preben Aavitsland, who served as Director for Surveillance at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, argued that other countries “hid their own insecurities by scolding Sweden” because the country “undermined their mantra that we had no choice”.
In comments made to Swedish paper SvD, Aavitsland explained that while Norway’s “harder line” may have prolonged the lives of old people, he added that the model of “long, hard lockdowns” that was inspired by Italy and China made Sweden “the contrast they did not want”. Sweden “forced them to explain to their citizens why they acted as they did,” the epidemiologist explained. “For these people, it would have been better if everyone had done the same”.
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Unlike the rest of Europe, Sweden largely avoided implementing mandatory lockdowns, instead relying on voluntary curbs on social gatherings, and keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open. This made Sweden an outlier, turning the country’s then-chief state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell into a hate figure, as he received death threats and urges to resign throughout the pandemic. This month, he told his successor to “have ice in your stomach”.
Despite avoiding strict lockdowns, SvD claims that Sweden’s excess mortality was the lowest out of all EU nations, including Nordic countries. While this claim is disputed, numerous studies have shown Sweden’s excess death rate to be among the lowest in Europe. Figures by the World Health Organisation, for example, show that in 2020 and 2021, the country had an average excess death rate of 56 per 100,000 — compared to 109 in the UK, 111 in Spain, 116 in Germany and 133 in Italy.
But Aavitsland stressed that a pandemic response could not be judged on excess deaths alone. “We also have to look at how people’s physical and mental health has been affected, school results and drop-outs, unemployment and social economy and other things,” he said. He went on to compliment the Swedish Public Health Agency’s communication over Norway’s, saying that it created less fear. “They gave more advice than threatened punishment,” the epidemiologist noted.
Fear may have been one reason as to why there were so few protests from the Norwegian population, which surprised Aavitsland. He said that it was “almost a little scary” what the population “accepts without protesting”. “We forbade families to visit their grandmother in the nursing home, we denied men attendance at their children’s births, we limited the number who were allowed to attend church at funerals,” he said. “Maybe people are willing to accept very strong restrictions if the fear is great enough”.
And yet still no one explains themselves as to why it took three years to come to conclusions that have been obvious since the beginning.
The “new” information all the lockdown hysterics are claiming has caused them to rethink their position is actually information that has been available since *at least* mid-2020.
Don’t let the cowards slink back in without reminding them just how wrong they were and how many lives they damaged or ruined.
“New info”: at least since mid-June, yes. Italy produced the most detailed data, from Feb20. It clearly evidenced the profile of the population at risk. From these raw figures, adapted public responses was possible.
For sure, UK Johnson’s rooftop cocktail goers had seen these and felt no fear!
There was also ‘test tube’ information from the Diamond Princess and the carnival town in Germany. Fatalities very low in percentage terms.
What struck me from the Italian raw data (which no OECD country published) was the +97% of victims with pre-existing health condition (+48% as many as 3). These folks were known to their GP and involving them in adapted protection measure that did not hurt everyone else was discarded.
“Have been obvious”?
That is precisely the problem. They weren’t. In Britain, Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College produced predictions about half a million dead if strong measures were not implemented. This scared the pants off everyone, including government ministers. Hence the lockdowns.
Mr. Wagner is more inclined to find someone to blame than to learn lessons for the future. I take a different view.
I have enormous sympathy for the politicians and officials around the world, who were faced with something unknown that had the potential to kill tens of millions of people. They had to feel their way forward, with all kinds of contradictory advice being yelled in their ears.
Those models proved off by orders of magnitude within weeks; the lessons learned were not for the future, they were apparent straightaway. If politicians, for years on end, decide to upend society because they are terrified of obviously-suspect modelling, then I’m sorry but they aren’t fit for the job.
And yes, I am blaming them because they are in fact worthy of blame. And more.
See the comments above – data was coming through very early on.
The NYTimes published a data set throughout the pandemic; top of the page online. With a bit of work one could compare the progress of the illness in various States, with various levels of restrictions (also part of the data set). By early summer it was obvious that there was little/no connection between deaths and restrictions. Two years later it was even more obvious.
Comments I wrote to the Times that mentioned this were not published.
“Feel their way forward”, yes, but shutting down honest debate and de-platforming those who questioned? Firing people who didn’t get vaxxed and wear a mask?
There was a large study done by Imperial College covering cases and deaths (cohort 16K) up to the start of May 2020. The data showed that the duration between infection and death was between 24 to 28 days. The NHS had this data, so one would assume the government were aware of it. In addition the NHS’ own data showed that deaths peaked on the 8th April. We went into lockdown on the 23 March, this demonstrates that infections were falling prior to the lockdown and started to fall around the same time that Johnson told the public to voluntarily restrict their movements.
There was even more data available to show that infections were falling prior to the 2nd and 3rd lockdowns. That data was from the NHS and also the ZOE and the ONS.
Lockdowns did nothing to reduce infections and I’m surprised people still support them. Yes I can understand the first one being implemented, however it shouldn’t have gone on for the length of time that it did. They were used as a comfort blanket for the public to demonstrate that the government was doing something. The WhatsApp files show that the people in charge were pretty much clueless.
Ferguson is just about the most incompetent statistical modeller on the planet.Here is some of his expert predictions :
Neil Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die. There were fewer than 200 deaths. . . .
In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. In the U.K., there were only 177 deaths from BSE.
In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.
In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a “reasonable worst-case scenario” was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K.
In March 2020, Ferguson admitted that his Imperial College model of the COVID-19 disease was based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus
The politicians should have been able to suss this charlatan out so no sympathy from this quarter.
Absolutely spot on. The problem is that the people in charge take the output of models as if they represent reality and represent the words of “God” brought down from Mt Sinai on tablets of stone.
The only purpose of modeling is to provide one with insight but quantitatively they are useless because the quantitative output depends entirely on the values of the parameters that are used, and the vast majority are wild guesses, as well as the many assumptions and simplifications relative to the real world.
The other issue with modeling whether for a pandemic or climate change is that because they involve a lot of computer code and solving large numbers of differential and partial differential equations, people think that they are accurate. Of course the mathematical output given a set of parameters is numerically accurate, but since many of the parameters are wild guesses the output bears no reflection on what actually happens in the real world.
Unfortunately people never learn. The public health authorities and governments never learnt from Ferguson’s previous attempts at predicting future, and likewise nobody in power seems to have leant from covid that climate models are all very well for providing some insight based on a set of assumptions, but quantitatively are useless. So one hears highly credentialed scientists such a Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner and Obama’s secretary of energy, state with 100% certainty that the earth’s average temperature will increase by 3.5 C by the year 2100, but basically that number is just pulled out of thin air, based on the results of one particular model with one particular set of input parameters and one set of assumptions, while, of course, ignoring many of the unknown unknowns.
At the beginning certainly there is understanding for the approach as thay had little or no idea how dangerous this was. We saw the military transport of coffins in Italy etc. But after that it was more politics than medicine that determined what was done. Shameful.
So why rely on a few scaremongers and not consult critical epidemiologists and health officials. Their opinions were discarded and suppressed. A politician with “ice in his stomach” should have the courage and weigh all the consequences of hard lockdowns.
As soon as it was announced that ferguson was ‘part of the team’ many people, including people of this parish railled against his inclusion. None of TPTB took a blind bit of notice of Unherd and many other (more august?) groups. I took as little notice of their utterances as possible – just doing enough or as little as required to evade arrest/fines.
The final paragraph concludes with:
“Maybe people are willing to accept very strong restrictions if the fear is great enough”.
Whilst political leaders may have thought they were gaining an insight into the behaviour of the populations they are meant to ‘serve’ in terms of fear-mongering and manipulation, i think many citizens will also have learnt a great deal; both about those attempts to manipulate and also about their own behaviour and reactions.
The pandemic came pretty much out of the blue, the first for a century, i.e. in living memory. The documentation of the post-WW1 Spanish Flu pandemic wasn’t available to us, nor the reactions to it of populations. Covid, on the other hand, with its colossal amount of data, conjecture and journalism on the internet will always be available for future reference.
Populations, better educated than a century ago, will be very likely to react differently to the demands placed upon them by leaders in politics, epidemiology and data science, with scepticism and one would hope much greater willingness to resist. In many regards, our so-called leaders have shot themselves in the foot and their limp excuses no longer wash.
Why do you think it is good that in the next pandemic people will ‘resist’ health advice from government and medical experts and take their cue from twitter and reddit instead? Would you really prefer to die free than to survive locked down?
I don’t take that view.
I take the view that members of the public will be far less inclined to succumb to fear-mongering by soundbite; that members of the public will not accept at face value the data modelling which leads to bad public health advice.
I’ve made the point before that i can understand why our political leaders acted out of an extreme of caution, and i’m not sure i wouldn’t have acted the same way in their invidious position at the time. But the point of this article and the forthcoming inquiry is to try to determine how better to proceed in future.
I don’t follow the social media you seem to know more about, therefore i can’t comment. I can comment on your own version of scare-mongering though: “…to die free than to survive locked down.” It’s becoming more clear with every passing week, that simply wasn’t the choice for the vast majority of people. For you to claim it was is disingenuous.
‘I take the view that members of the public will be far less inclined to succumb to fear-mongering by soundbite; that members of the public will not accept at face value the data modelling which leads to bad public health advice.’
I’m afraid I don’t share your optimism.
Twitter was censored during the pandemic and heavily biased to tow the mainstream line. It (and FB etc) were and are infiltrated by FBI, left government, governmental organisations, CIA and the like. Elon Musk has changed Twitter.
Rasmus is incorrect about Twitter.
Perhaps the public can approach both with the relevant degree of scepticism. I’m more inclined to listen to a epidemiologist than a berk on the internet, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take everything they say as gospel. They were catastrophically wrong about lockdowns and are as prone to panic and error as any other human.
Which epidemiologists did you listen to. There were plenty who offered a different view and were immediately silenced by MSM and then big tech. Why were so many of us right. It was evident early on that fatality rates were low and old people and those with specified co-morbidities were more at risk.
So well said. And the reason that the Government epidemiologists (e.g. CDC) got it so wrong is that they were subject to massive group think, and never bothered to think carefully or critically about the situation. Rather they just acted politically to support whatever the current recommendation du jour was, and then proceeded to double down (as the CDC has done with both mask and COVID vaccine recommendations – cf Wallensky recent congressional testimony which shows that not only doesn’t she know what she’s talking about but she really isn’t very smart).
The truth is, Rasmus, that the lay public is far more street smart than the credentialed and intelligentsia, of which you think you’re a part of. So the lay public tends to be able to smell a rat and detect BS, while the credentialed just lap up the pronouncements of other members of the credentialed set. In the US this was quite extraordinary as every pronouncement that Fauci made from April 2020 onwards (all from the seat of his pants) were just lapped up by the intelligentsia as if they were the word of “God”. In fact many simply regarded Fauci as the incarnation of “God”. But the regular folk realized very early on that Fauci was talking nonsense almost all of the time and was simply winging it.
That is precisely why it is so crucial that every committee/panel/advisory body (e.g. SAGE, etc…) blue team/red team every issue and make their deliberations public so that regular folk can weigh the different perspectives. Otherwise, you end up having highly credentialed bodies such as the US National Academy of Sciences make pronouncements that are simply reiterations of the current narrative du jours. Indeed the NAS is just a think tank that functions as a mouth piece of the democratic party.
The lay public is not immune from groupthink either – as witness faith healing, astrology, ‘Stop the Steal, UFOs and Pizzagate.
But let us hear it, Mr MD PhD Strauss – do you think that the more you know the worse your decisions, and only the ignorant get it right? Or is it just that anyone who disagrees with you must be suffering from groupthink?
You are right, I personally will never react to that kind of government induced fear.
A key factor in both Covid deaths and excess deaths, overlooked by just about everybody, is nothing to do with the response to Covid. It’s the pre-existing state of a nation’s health.
The UK has a highly unhealthy population compared to many other countries, so a poor outcome was in fact baked, or do I mean deep-fried, in.
But this is a bit contradictory; the preexisting health of a nation (poor or otherwise) will not figure into excess death estimations. This is exactly why they are “excess.”
Diet/lifestyle deaths are common and would be counted in the baseline statistics.
That doesn’t quite follow. Unfit people are more likely to succumb to Covid therefore their excess Covid deaths would be in addition to their usual higher-than- normal death rate.
If that were true, there would be a direct correlation between “covid deaths” (whatever those are; the definition has been quite slippery) and excess deaths. No such correlation exists.
In fact, excess deaths have continued apace whilst covid deaths have plummeted; how do you account for this?
I could tell you but I would probably be arrested.
Perhaps the many people who were denied early treatment for newly discovered cancers, etc are dying so this trend should continue until the ‘NHS’ has caught-up.
Moreover, according to the article, the UK fared no differently in terms of excess deaths from “healthier” nations such as Germany which also pursued strict lockdown policies. The Swedes got it 100% right because Tignell didn’t panic as the Westminster government did after Johnson’s close call with Covid.
Bottom line: by my calculations the NPI’s imposed by the UK government cost the country about £400 billion to provide roughly 1-2 QALY’s to approx 400,000 people, giving a cost per QALY of £500,000 to £1,000,000. (Not to mention the impact on the education and mental health of the young, a massive NHS backlog and other unquantified costs.)
The NICE threshold for pharmaceutical interventions is a maximum of £30,000 per QALY.
If lockdowns were a drug, the NHS wouldn’t have been allowed to buy them.
Thanks to Freddy the UnHerd readers were well informed from the beginning. I loved his interviews with the Swedish Health officials, and it made me feel better, looking at all the daily doom and gloom updates from the U.K. government. Terrifying how the population obeyed thanks to their lies and unscientific statements. It is all coming out now….Fauci should share a cell with Hancock, maybe forced to eat bugs every day
The Swedish article is behind a paywall, but Unherd chose to omit part of the summary comment:
Världen dolde sin osäkerhet genom att skälla ut Sverige – men Norges hårdare linje kan ha förlängt äldres liv. Det menar Anders Tegnells norska kollega. ”Sverige blev kontrasten de inte önskade sig.”
” The world hid their insecurities by scolding Sweden – but Norway’s harder line may have prolonged the lives of old people. So says Anders Tegnells Norwegian colleague. “Sweden became the contrast they did not want”.
Is James Billot biased, by any chance?
No offence intended. My apologies. Thanks for engaging.
Why are people giving Rasmus Fogh downvotes for this?
Even the author of the piece accepts that it’s a useful contribution.
Must be ‘Groupthink’ and we’ve all decided to annoy Rasmus today (well, OK yesterday)
If that is true, then Norway should see a higher average age of death in 2022 than Sweden did in 2020.
I have my doubts. Norway are projected to lose about the same from life expectancy in 2022 as Sweden did in 2020. Finland even more.
I was puzzled by the title of this man being “Director for Surveillance” in a public health role. Do they also have a “Director of Interrogation” or a “Director of Coercion”?
The most generous takeaway is the epistemology is an…erm…evolving science that should be at most a minor contributor to the debate.
James Billot wrote, “Unlike the rest of Europe, Sweden largely avoided implementing mandatory lockdowns, instead relying on voluntary curbs on social gatherings, and keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open.”
This description also applies to Japan. It is the 2nd most populous nation in the West. (After the United States ceases to be a Western nation by 2040 due to open borders with Latin America, Japan will be the 1st most populous nation in the West.)
The number of excess Japanese deaths from March 2020 to March 2021 was actually negative. The Japanese results prove that mandates are not necessary and that they can harm society.
Get more info about this issue.
Cumulative covid deaths by country:
Swedish covid deaths, adjusted for population size, are twice those of neighbours Norway and Denmark. If you read the official Swedish enquiry into their handling of covid [they have had three we have had none] you will see that the Swedish death rate during the first [pre vaccine] wave was higher than most other European countries. If you want non biased reporting, go to reputable sites.
The debate – mandatory vs self selected Lockdowns. Swedes did the latter – a lockdown to all intents and purposes but chosen by themselves.
So the issue isn’t whether we all needed to Lockdown it’s whether we could be trusted. Perhaps Swedes just have a better collective sense of responsibility and thus could be trusted. Whether the same would have applied in other countries is to ponder. Maybe, but maybe not and at certain times pre significant vaccination rates the implication of ‘choice’ could have been a rapid overwhelming of health services.
Nonetheless let’s hope the Public Inquiries really dig into this without all the cognitive bias key decision makers will seek to defend.
Swedes didn’t lockdown at all. Schools, restaurants, businesses remained open. That’s not a voluntary lock-down.
Sorry, but to a large extent it is. Schools maybe stayed open, but people very largely stayed at home. Sweden is notorious for a high degree of obedience to social pressure and government advice. Which means that Sweden can achieve a very high degree of compliance by simply giving advice. But of course this only works because people do *not* feel free to ignore that advice. The same policies applied in Texas or Glasgow would have given a very different result – and probably rather more deaths. The thing that matters – and that you need to compare – is the actual change in behaviour, not the change in regulations.
Yes RP that’s what I understand. Swedes certainly backed off mingling. Population density probably helped too.
Fascinatingly for ‘Anti-Lockdowners’, Swedes vaccination rate for those above 19yrs c84%. And their Public Health Ministry recommended everyone above 12 get it. The same Ministry cites the high vaccine rate as the most important measure they introduced. Now Anti-Lockdowners aren’t necessarily Anti-Vaxxers too but one does sense quite alot of overlap. Hence this will present them with some difficulty, although the ability to cherry-pick one’s contentions will be unabated.
Still overall v much hope the Public Inquiries really do question/debate/discuss this issue in fully transparent manner. We need to learn.
Population density – outbreak in Sweden was dense areas. Anyway we always looked at cases/deaths figures per million
The fundamental differences are that they ( we ) could mostly use discretion. So the high school kids on remote could still meet up at the park without being guilt tripped by “Protect the NHS” posters. People could visit their family without worrying about a neighbour reporting them. A couple could go for lunch or dinner together.
Living in Sweden in 2020/21 and looking back at UK was like looking behind the iron curtain at times.
We still reduced contacts. But for these reasons it was never intolerable, and far more sustainable than the “in and out of lockdown” charades in the UK and most of EU.
And it worked just as well as anywhere else, overall.
Schools for 15+ year olds were closed, as were universities. The size of gatherings was limited, initially to 50 but, by Dec 20, to 8. Not much different from our rule of 6.
Also, the Government lacked the legal powers to impose many restrictions but local govt had the powers and used them. Stockholm-based foreign journalists, discouraged of course from travelling, seemed to have mostly overlooked this on their reporting.
It’s important to learn the lessons from Sweden but we must ensure we understand what actually happened there, rather than assuming the lesson is a blanket “lockdown bad”.
16+ sixth forms upwards, and no laws forbidding these students from mixing. The gatherings were for restaurants and events but you could invite who you wanted to your home.
These are fundamental differences that made the Swedish measures infinitely more sustainable than what was attempted elsewhere. And ultimately no less effective.
“rather than assuming the lesson is a blanket “lockdown bad”.”
But this is the only rational lesson.
Putting a population “on lockdown” was implemented without proof of its efficacy, and is somehow still defended by many even after it is demonstrably ineffective and harmful, to say the least.
‘Proof of efficacy’? Do me a favour! The only way to ‘prove efficacy’ is to try it during a pandemic and see what happens. So if you cannot do it the first time because it is not ‘proven’ you cannever do it – whether it helps or not.
Lockdowns had been tried before many times over and proved completely ineffective. And this dates back to the middle ages. That is precisely why at the beginning the WHO advised against lockdowns because they knew it wouldn’t work and it didn’t. All you do is transfer viral transmission from the workplace to the home. And you make things worse but literally locking them up and preventing them from going outdoors (which would have been the healthy thing to do as the risk of transmission outdoors is as close to zero as one can get). The same is true of masking. Everybody in public health knew that masks didn’t work for respiratory viruses from the many RCTs done on respiratory viral infections prior to Covid. Again that’s why initially masks were highly discouraged by the WHO and public health authorities. Then from one day to the next everything changed based on some lab experiments in a highly controlled environment of no relevance to the real world.
In the workplace you meet lots of different people. In the home you meet that same three people only. How is the infection going to get into the home if you are seeing no one else ?!!?!???
Please try to come up with some better arguments, so I can at least pretend to respect you.
Because unless you weld the door shut (as in China) and leave people starving, people have to go out. Also society has to function. Why don’t you give this up. We won the argument on all fronts, you lost.
In your dreams.
I certainly wasn’t dreaming. I well remember the debates going back to 2020. You were wrong time and again Rasmus. Stop trying to defend an indefensible position is my advice! The truth is out!
First, in most work places (labs, offices, etc…) people don’t come in if their ill, and the density is low. In the home, one is in close contact breathing the same air for prolonged periods of time (probably 12 hrs a day). So when one person get Covid, most of the others in the household do as well. (Not 100% because even if one squirts virus up people’s noses, as was done in a challenge trial in the UK), only 50% actually come down with COVID.
Your question would then be how does it go outside the home. Well people can’t starve so they have to go out and get food.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what mitigation measures you employ, the area under the curve is always the same, it is just the width of the wave that may (and may is the operative) be extended, thereby simply prolonging the agony.
The data shows that people were voluntarily restricting their movements, it was this that brought down infections and not lockdowns.
That’s a perfectly reasonable point.
There are two issues. First there has never been any RCT evidence to show that any of the mitigation efforts (lockdowns, masks, etc…) work in the community. e.g. Lockdowns have the simple effect of transferring virus infection from the workplace to the household. Second, the only purpose of mitigation efforts is to flatten the curve, but the number of deaths under the curve always remains the same. So, in essence, mitigation, if it even worked, only serves to prolong the agony. Third, it was known very early on that there was aa very steep age dependence, so that focussed protection was imminently doable. Recall that 40% of the deaths occurred in nursing homes and involved individuals already older than the average life expectancy and with multiple co-morbidities.
This is nonsense. The Times link in paragraph four compares Sweden with the countries that had high death tolls.
Really? Come on, we’ve done all this – you have to compare Sweden with similar countries and in those first few years of lockdowns they suffered terribly. Thousands of people needlesly died because of their ridiculous virtue signalling of trying to be a liberal free society. Even their own King admitted their failings. There’s nothing in this article to say otherwise.
But we all know why they suffered greatly initially. Their care homes are large and they (by their own admission) didn’t protect their elderly sufficiently. Hence they got off to a very bad start. As we now know protecting the elderly should have been the priority. This doesn’t make their overall approach invalid. Once they corrected that their stats improved significantly.
That’s probably down to other factors such as the vaccine. People want believe their approach worked because they are critical of lockdowns. But even if it did work for them, this would not work in more densely populated metropolitan countries.
“But even if it did work for them, this would not work in more densely populated metropolitan countries.”
Lockdown lovers in Ireland can’t use this line so instead they say that the Swedes live alone whereas the Irish live in multigenerational households. The common denominator: latch on to anything rather than admit that the lockdowns that they supported were not effective.
You need to compare more than just a couple years, as the effects of long lockdowns will take time to show up. In 2022, Norway had an excess death rate 3 times that if Sweden, Finland is around 5 times. The data for early part of 2023, shows no sign of that abating.
Lockdowns didn’t work.
And that is the critical point. One has to look at the outcome over a reasonable period of time (up to 5-10 years). As an example, the loss to children’s learning is not simply a 2 year deal but a lifetime one, resulting in lost earnings and poorer health.
None of that changes the fact that thousands of Swedish died needlessly because of their loose lockdown policy. You can’t bring those people back to life with a spreadsheet.
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