Norwegian health chief: we advised against closing schools
Freddie Sayers speaks to Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian Institute for Public Health
Camilla Stoltenberg is the Director-General of the Norwegian Institute for Public Health, which has been advising the Norwegian government on the country’s Covid-19 response. Norway attracted attention in recent weeks after taking the decision to close its border with neighbouring Sweden, while opening it with Denmark as part of the region’s ‘Nordic travel bubble’.
Stoltenberg explains to Freddie Sayers that the reason for Sweden’s exclusion was in large part political, and a recent opinion poll found a majority of the population did not support opening the border with the country.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
But in spite of Norway’s success in keeping the total number of infections low, the Director-General argues that the government’s response was not that dissimilar to Sweden’s but may have been too heavy-handed in certain areas.
She explains that:
- The evidence for wearing masks is “not good”
- Though important, social distancing could be reduced to one metre instead of 2m
- Closing down schools was not recommended as part of the lockdown
- Norway’s lockdown after the first Covid death early, possibly even “too soon”
- These should be political decisions, and its better for ministers to present them (like Norway) than scientists (like Sweden)
- She is not convinced that the differences between countries comes down to early and strong action – it could be just as much luck
- She believes that a second wave is likely BUT if there is a second wave there should not be another lockdown, only extensive testing and tracing
- We won’t go back to the old normal until a vaccine is discovered, which could take years
Have a watch…
If the British teaching unions had their way, the kids would never go back to school.
Same for American unions. Even if you are waiting for a vaccine, they are never100% effective, you can’t make people take them and the message that the only way to live a life is to have every vaccine is a biased, misinformed statement. The vast VAST majority of humans will be absolutely fine without a vaccine for this virus and the public health officials shouldn’t be trying to convince us of otherwise. To shut down the world and stop youth from thriving, and even turn them into fearful neurotic germaphobes in the process because the old and sick are dying is a disturbing and misguided protocol. Protect the vulnerable and let the rest of live our lives. End of story.
Kerry, spot on. I like it.
In California, they would request additional funding for that.
I have turned to Unherd and away from MSM recently so I am still “getting the hang” of all this. But here goes!
For what it is worth I am so impressed by Freddie who asks questions without obvious political motives. He questions answers to clarify rather than manipulate the impression of the audience as far as I can tell, so thank you Freddie.
It is only human that we listen to these things hoping they will reinforce our own opinions, but one thing that resonated with me is the fact that this has always been and still is about the behaviour, disposition, distribution and density of the population. What has worked in one country may not have worked in another, even if it was tried. This makes it very hard to compare the responses of any countries “like for like” and I wish we could avoid the temptation to turn this into some kind of grewsome competition.
I also was heartened by the final moments.. surely, everyone should be concentrating on international solutions rather than using this to promote their own political ends.
Very interesting interview, thank you.
However, the bullet point summary of what Stoltenberg said is somewhat misleading.
Stoltenberg clearly indicated that the reason Norway believes there has been no spike as of now is that they did not have many infections to begin with, and then they locked down and closed borders early, driving the low infection rate even lower.
On “strong and early action”, Stoltenberg refused to grade governments’ responses (she’s politically astute and notably at the end of the interview called for greater international cooperation and solidarity). But she didn’t simply say differences between countries are just luck. Rather, she said that many countries that locked down “may have simply been unlucky” in terms of timing, for example to have silent transmission/high infection rates before they knew it. Whereas Norway locked down when it had barely any infections and only the one death, which was possibly more action than was necessary given the low infection rate (“in some senses too early because it costs a lot”)).
Relatedly, Stoltenberg said the reason social distancing could now be reduced from 2m to 1m was because Norway realised they didn’t have many infections in the general population (“there are so few people around with the virus so the probability of getting the disease, of transmission, is very low”).
And Stoltenberg refused to agree with Sayers’ suggestion that it will turn out that the virus inherently would not have spread through the population, contrary to original predictions. Indeed, Stoltenberg predicts a “new normal” and expects a second wave, but that Norway’s new “enormous” testing and tracing/surveillance capabilities in particular means that Norway’s aim is to avoid the need for a new lockdown by stopping a second wave at an early stage.
The UK was unlucky, in that thousands from the middle classes nipped off to Italy for a winter skiing break and came back with the virus which they then seeded in every part of this island before we knew about it.
And I wish someone would explain to me this, if lockdown works, why did the whole country not peak at the same time, why London first, followed by the Midlands, then the north?
I’m not sure the evidence supports your claim that the infections came into the UK from Italy.
A recent Oxford/Edinburgh Uni preprint (“Preliminary analysis of SARS-CoV-2 importation & establishment of UK transmission lineages”) based on genetic analysis of infections suggests that:
“â‰ˆ34% of detected UK transmission lineages arrived via inbound travel from Spain, â‰ˆ29% from France, â‰ˆ14% from Italy, and â‰ˆ23% from other countries.”
As for your question, presumably you are referring to peaks in deaths (as infection rates are largely a function of how much testing is being done)? If by “works”, you mean reduce the R0 below 1, then there are many variables, including local levels of compliance with social distancing. The short answer is that densely populated London had more infections to begin with, whereas the regions’ infection curves were behind London in terms of time and absolute numbers. Then throw in variables like economic inequalities and the fact that people in poor parts of the UK had much higher death rates than people in wealthier areas (comorbidities include hypertension, diabetes, obesity). Of course, there are big regional variations in Sweden too.
Fair points, MrsDoyle.
However, as reported today in UnHerd, preliminary genetic analysis of the virus suggests most infections were imported into the UK from Spain, not Italy. The link to the UnHerd piece is here: https://unherd.com/thepost/…
As for your question about regional curves around the UK and why they would not respond identically/simultaneously to social distancing measures, there is a lot of analysis of the data available that seeks to provide an explanation. For example: https://theconversation.com…
Exactly, so to the point. Very misleading bullet points!
So Norway has not yet had their 1st wave. They were too successful.
And they have few and tiny care homes — a big advantage in terms of death counts.
It occurs to me that Norway may be the only country to largely contain the epidemic before achieving significant natural humoral immunity, since the Asian countries to do so had previous epidemic exposure to SARS-1 — another unremarked upon likely advantage.
Maybe the Norwegians will never come out of lockdown fully. They seem a good candidate for a truly new normal. I look forward to a society returning to the old normal, however. I myself never left it. Much ado about very little.
You cannot be too successful in saving lives. If you saw the whole interview, Stoltenberg said that there is little evidence of immunity in any population. There is no lockdown in Norway now. More and more normalised.
I actually took the effort to watch the whole interview and knowing the Norwegian situation very well from inside, I have a few comments. What I heard was the following: Norway locked down the first day of the first death, and this may have had a great impact on the low death rates (242 persons in 5 million). Another reason was that the lockdown was so sudden and extensive that psychologically it had a great effect on the whole society so that they saw the importance of it and followed the recommendations. The whole population was together in it. Then why so big difference between Sweden and Norway? The regulations were more strict in Norway, but nearly nobody was sanctioned because it was built on trust in the government, and this is a good thing, Stoltenberg said, as long as the population has trust in the government. When she said it was a political thing, she said it was a good thing as long as the people have trust in the leaders and they do the right thing. I could have added many other points that could have lead to quite other impressions than the written article (fake news?) but finally, I would like to say that Stoltenberg added the last point herself: in this situation we need international solidarity in dealing with the pandemic, so that the less fortunate countries also can have the same opportunities to fight the virus (I guess she by this meant supporting the work of WHO).
Las cuarentenas en todo el mundo dejan serias dudas de que sean efectivas. probablemente, los resultados sean los mismos con cuarentenas o sin ellas. Hay evidencias, aÃºn no confirmadas, pero existen, de que el virus caminÃ³ entre nosotros algunos meses antes de que se detectara.
One clearcut epidemiological factor, IMO, is that SARS-2 is not very contagious. It spreads more quickly than SARS-1 but much more slowly than flu and likely than the common cold viruses, including those four older coronaviruses.
I believe SARS-2 has a bimodal transmission characteristic, because the upper respiratory infection fades quickly and is never very strong in most — it appeared to last only a few hours in me. The lower respiratory infection persists for a very long time in a minority. But the weaker, more brief upper respiratory infection transmits more readily, albeit with probably a smaller load of virus than with the cough.
Early on, before much recognition of the novel virus, those with a cough probably were the source of a lot of spread. But now it would be much less, and a greater proportion might be from the throat.
This may be the reason for the “infinitesimal” typical viral load in cases seen more recently in Milan, as compared to those during the height of the epidemic there, in addition to signficant gained herd immunity or humoral and cell-mediated resistance.
All of this makes SARS-2 very different epidemiologically from flu, which is the standard of reference for respiratory epidemics.
I continue to be amazed at the lack of curiosity and of intellect and of spirit in modern societies. Maybe a few of us should start a new anti-lockdown rebellion and secession, protesting this absolute nonsense of craven Orwellian conformity.
Because SARS-2 has a serial interval of likely twice that of flu and is also a very weak upper respiratory pathogen, as herd immunological resistance gradually builds the spread rate will likely continue to slow to a dribble. But this ironically may keep the virus around for much longer than any single yearly strain of flu which dies out, giving it a 2nd season and more unless or until a vaccine is successful in innoculating a large portion of population(s).
Flu mutates very quickly, but a single strain only lasts for a few weeks. SARS viruses do not mutate very quickly or significantly. This is another little appreciated but large epidemiological difference. Knut Wittkowsky thinks there will be no second waves or second seasons, but I think he may be falling into the trap of too much reliance upon the flu as a model. I think there may be a 2nd season, but it will be much weaker. However, in countries or regions (e.g. states in USA) that never developed significant exposure to the virus during their first cold season of 2020, their 1st season will be effectively delayed to their next cold season. That is, unless they stay in lockdown indefinitely 🙂
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe