‘Sweden has been vindicated on Covid’

Martin Kulldorff on why lockdowns were a disaster for public health.


Topics Covid-19 Free Speech Science & Tech World

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Almost as quickly as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world in 2020, governments began locking down. These measures, we were told, might have been insanely authoritarian and historically unprecedented, but politicians were just ‘following the science’. We simply had to give up our freedoms in order to save lives. And yet, in Sweden, ‘the science’ looked very different. The nation refused to go into full lockdown, insisting this would be better for health in the long-run. It made itself a global pariah in the process.

So, four years on from the first lockdowns across the West, has Sweden’s more liberal approach been proven wrong or vindicated? Swedish epidemiologist and biostatistician Martin Kulldorff, one of the co-authors of the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration, joined Brendan O’Neill on the latest episode of his podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show, to discuss how Sweden fared. They also discussed censorship and the lockdown on dissent during the pandemic. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full episode here.

Brendan O’Neill: Were you taken aback by how difficult it became to criticise lockdowns during the pandemic and have a reasoned, scientific discussion?

Martin Kulldorff: I was shocked. I never imagined that someone like me, a scientist stating what used to be basic principles of public health, would suddenly be at the centre of a political whirlwind. The interesting thing for me, though, was that I had two different experiences simultaneously during the pandemic. On the one hand, I was mostly writing and advising in the US, where I live. But at the same time, I was deeply involved in the Swedish debate. I was published in Swedish newspapers, defending Sweden’s approach to the pandemic. In the US and UK, I was a fringe voice opposing the establishment. But in Sweden, I was actually defending the establishment position of not closing everything down.

Of course, not everyone in Sweden was happy with the government’s strategy. There was a group of 22 scientists who publicly opposed the no-lockdown approach in 2020. In effect, they wanted Sweden to copy China, the US and the rest of the world and shut society down. So they published critical articles in Sweden’s major newspapers, making arguments that I completely disagreed with and responded to. And even though I thought they were wrong, I’m glad they wrote those pieces. There were obviously plenty of people in Sweden who agreed with them and were asking why we were doing things differently. People wanted to know why we weren’t locking down like everywhere else.

The open discussion that came from this was extremely important. It allowed the rest of us to reasonably and politely counter these arguments. And that led to more trust in the Swedish approach among the public. Swedes, after all, broadly supported the government’s position. There was never any major opposition to it, even though Swedes – most of whom speak English – had access to all the international press that was criticising the approach.

O’Neill: When Sweden didn’t lock down, there were hysterical pieces in the media over here, suggesting that everyone was going to die and that the country was going to hell in a handcart. Which was interesting, given the liberal-left in Britain often like to present Sweden as a social-democratic paradise. Did Sweden’s approach pay off in the long-run?

Kulldorff: I never considered Sweden a paradise, but I did become incredibly jealous of my fellow Swedes during the pandemic. Interestingly, it was a Social Democratic government there that decided not to introduce lockdowns. In the US, however, I was supporting Republicans like Ron DeSantis who avoided lockdowns and kept schools open. So in Sweden, I was a left-wing fanatic who supported the establishment by opposing lockdowns. But in the US, opposing lockdowns made me a right-wing extremist. I was willing to have discussions or interviews with the media on both the left and the right, because that’s what public-health experts are supposed to do. Public health is not supposed to be political.

When it comes to the results of Sweden’s approach, I’m happy to tell you that the people there are still alive. You wouldn’t have thought that possible reading the media reports four years ago. In fact, if you compare excess deaths per 100,000 people in Sweden (that is, how many more people died than expected compared with pre-pandemic levels), Sweden had an excess mortality of roughly five per cent. That’s lower than all other major Western countries. Canada, Germany, the US and New Zealand all had higher excess deaths. And all of them brought in much harsher lockdown measures. Denmark and Norway also had low rates of excess deaths, though not as low as Sweden. Both of those countries had less severe lockdowns than the rest of Europe.

Obviously, Sweden did not kill its citizens by refusing to implement lockdowns. In fact, it now has among the lowest ‘all-cause’ mortality rates in the world. Sweden was incredibly successful in avoiding the collateral damage caused by lockdowns. That means, for example, that Sweden was able to limit non-Covid-related deaths by not restricting access to healthcare. But it also applies to other areas, like education. In the US, where schools were shut down during the pandemic, test results have plummeted since 2020. In Sweden, no such decline has happened. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Some of the worst effects of lockdown won’t actually show up in mortality statistics today. But they will show up in the social, financial and physical health of children tomorrow and in the future. These lockdowns were a disaster for public health. And we will have to live with that fact for decades to come.

Martin Kulldorf was talking to Brendan O’Neill on The Brendan O’Neill Show. Watch the full conversation here:

Picture by:Martin Kulldorff.

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Topics Covid-19 Free Speech Science & Tech World


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