Sweden Screwed Up
S1: Lina Einhorn has one of those resumes that’s almost hard to believe. She’s a physician, but she’s also a bench scientist. The thing is, she didn’t want to stay behind a bench.
S2: My thesis was in virology and tumor biology. But I’d been working as a filmmaker and author for the last decades.
S1: Lena lived in the U.S. for a while. She made films for Lifetime Television. Now she lives in Sweden, where she’s won the Swedish National Book Award. But she still has that scientific habit of asking questions. A lot of questions. And since the Corona virus pandemic started up, she hasn’t been able to stop asking when the epidemic in war has started.
S2: I was following it, you know, and I noticed that nothing was happening in Sweden. So I started making contact with the state epidemiologists of Sweden, asking him, you know, what’s going on? I you know, they’re warning that there would be a worldwide pandemic and you have to prepare. You know, I was reading and it lands that article what they say to you. So he said, well, there are a lot of pride, you know, a lot of projections from very loose that, you know, we shall see what happens. That’s what he answered. It was an e-mail.
S3: This was back in February, about a month before the United States would shut itself down Laina. But our own government should be doing more. Earlier, the state epidemiologist disagreed. And all the while, a lot of Swedes were starting to fly all over Europe for their annual winter break. They call it a sports holiday.
S2: And a lot of them go to the Alps. A lot of them go skiing in Italy. And and so the public health agency with a state hippiedom mythologist works. It is said you should absolutely not cancel your your plants and blah, blah, blah for a couple of days.
S1: Lena kept pressing this government health official, but she didn’t really get anywhere.
S4: I love this story because it really I hear your personality in it. I mean, I know you lived in the United States for a number of years. Have you ever you heard the word gadfly. Yeah. But I’m not sure exactly what it means. It’s it’s somebody irritating. Somebody irritating one. Right. But like with good intentions.
S5: After all, that, Layna didn’t give up. She just started asking her questions louder. First, she wrote to an infectious disease specialist, one of Sweden’s best.
S2: And I wrote to him because there was nobody else to write to.
S3: Sounds like almost for moral support.
S2: Yeah. Yeah. Just to not be in the twilight zone, you know.
S1: And that doctor connected Lena with other scientists. All of them were watching. Sweden’s public health leaders insist on keeping businesses and primary schools open while the rest of the world shut down.
S2: You know, and they were like all really sounding desperate. All of them. And why were they desperate? It was the policy. They said, how long is this gonna go on? I can’t stand it. You know what? What? Why are they doing like this? And so I just said to them, let’s write an article. And we did.
S1: Twenty two scientists ended up signing onto this statement. It was headlined, Public Health Authorities Have Failed. Now politicians must intervene.
S2: We are now known as the 22 where many more than 22 arrested at this point. We’re still called the 22.
S1: If this were a simple story, this is the point where I’d explain the success of the 20 to how Swedish politicians eyes were opened by the alarm they sounded. But this is not a simple story in this article. It didn’t change much of anything. Three months later, Sweden’s got one of the highest death rates from the corona virus in all of Europe.
S2: Sweden right now has had a little more than 5500 dead in 19. The other four Nordic countries combined have had one thousand one hundred something that’s so sweet, whereas five times as many deaths in cope with 19 as all the other Nordic countries together.
S3: Today on the show, how to think about what’s happening in Sweden, they’re hands off approach to the Corona virus. It seemed disastrous, but it’s unclear whether the country will change course. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.
S1: I want to tell the story of how Sweden got to this place and think about whether it’s a cautionary tale for everyone else or something else. So let’s go back to the beginning in the spring. The virus is spreading and you’ve been really clear. Sweden was very slow to respond. But I remember that this was kind of seen in the United States as almost fresh thinking. Like I remember seeing articles in The New York Times saying, you know, the country is an outlier in Europe, trusting people to voluntarily follow protocols. Many haven’t. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt them. Do you remember that?
S2: Well, sure. The problem is that it wasn’t only an issue of trust. It wasn’t issue recommendations. The recommendations were different than Sweden. The restaurants kept open. You know, the Finnish president, they had a complete lockdown in Finland and they had very low numbers. So the Finnish presidency says, listen, I cannot keep the restaurants open and tell people not to go there. You know? So it’s it’s not likes the Swedes were breaking the rules. The rules were different. They are advocating against facemasks. It’s different from most countries today.
S5: Sounds like it drives you nuts. It’s driving me nuts. I think we all know this story that around the world, the novel coronavirus got a head start on the public health establishment because experts didn’t think there was much evidence for asymptomatic spread. And now, of course, we all know better. You can spread this virus even if you’re feeling healthy. Most public health experts, they’ve rushed to correct the record on this, except in Sweden. Reporting shows that the Swedish public health agency pushed back hard against research showing that people who seemed healthy could be contagious.
S1: And for all the additional data we have, Sweden’s public health agency, they haven’t substantially adjusted their claims.
S2: So in the beginning, they wrote on their website, there is no principal dramatic spread. Today, they will still say it’s possible, but it will not drive the epidemic. It is not epidemiologically important the precinct to spread. And so they still have the same recommendations. Wash your hands and stay at home if you feel sick. That is also why they don’t advocate facemasks, because symptomatic spread is not important, they say in the Web hij. It still says, what do I do if someone in my household has Corbitt 19? And the answer is you don’t do anything. You go to work or school as usual. Wow. Yeah. Either they refuse to admit that they made the mistake because that means admitting that you caused a lot of people’s deaths. You know, it’s it’s a very difficult thing to admit or there is a secret strategy of hurting you.
S1: I want to get into that more because the country’s policy has been shaped by a man named Enda’s Techno.
S2: Right. That is the state of the Middle Ages. The guy I first contacted in on February 1st.
S1: Can you explain who he is and how he thinks about this virus? I understand you debated him. I did. Yes.
S4: Have two songs from Tomas Villefort. And I can’t I. I looked at the video. I can’t understand a word you’re saying, but I got to say, your body language is a universal one. You know, you just can’t believe what’s coming out of his mouth. Hep C, c. See, I made a call spicy disease M.S..
S1: What is he saying when you confront him about the fact that Swedens recommendations are so different from recommendations almost anywhere else?
S2: Well, I haven’t talked to him since then. They he will not meet any of us in debates any of the hours of the 22. So none of us have debated hims since then. That was, I think, the last time we debated any of us.
S1: One reader described him as having an almost lobotomized detachment from the costs of his decision making, which I thought was interesting.
S2: Listen, I don’t know his psychology. I don’t know his motivations. I can only guess. And we we everybody guessing. And you know that, as I said, there are really two main possibilities. Well, there’s the third one, of course, that they still believe they’re right. But it’s so strange to use a weak word that you still don’t acknowledge pre symptomatic spread and that you still don’t advocate facemasks. That that’s not enough. There’s something more in here. Either it is a refusal to admit mistakes or it is a hope for herd immunity.
S1: Yeah. I mean, that that’s stood out to me, too, because when you listen to him talk, Technol talks about immunity in this kind of funny way.
S4: He denies that he that his strategy is to make the population immune to the coronavirus. But at the same time, he puts forward these numbers that suggest otherwise. Like he said a few weeks back. Oh, I think a quarter of people in Stockholm are probably immune. And I don’t know what his evidence was for that. But to even put that forward kind of hints that maybe that’s something you’d like to be true in the beginning.
S2: He was very open. He believes that this is really the only way we’re going to solve this is to how to do. He actually said it in the beginning. But then, you know, the next time he will deny it. And basically they deny it. But at the same time, they are always overstating the antibody prevalence and they are like they are acting as if they want people to be an auntie for younger people to get infected because they’re very, very strict on on 70 plus the staying at home or stay or not associating with people. They’re very strict with that.
S1: So they clearly recognize that there’s a vulnerable population.
S2: Absolutely. But the problem is that, you know, so many people have died in the in the elder care, both in the facilities and in the home. For the elderly, and that’s going back to the whole thing with pre symptomatic and asymptomatic spread, they don’t believe that it’s important that address the epidemic. And they do not advocate using facemasks in the elder care facilities unless the people are working with somebody who is sick. The personnel, often they were coming from areas of stock of whether there was a lot of spread in these parts of the suburbs of Stockholm. And a lot of the people who were working in the elder care facilities came from these particular areas. People were saying, oh, they came to work sick. No, they didn’t come to work sick. They came priest symptomatic. They had no symptoms. But since they were told not to wear a facemask, they probably gave it to the to the elderly. And that’s how it spread.
S1: There is a story that really stood out to me. This this man named Thomas Anderson, who brought local news crews to his father’s facility to basically demand that they treat his dad because they were planning to just give him morphine and let nature take its course.
S2: Right. That is another aspect with the elder care. They didn’t give them oxygen. They didn’t have oxygen in those facilities. And this is being investigated, you know, whether there was too much morphine, given this is not for me to say.
S4: Yeah. I mean, with a death rate and an infection rate that’s so much higher than surrounding countries, it’s hard to think about why the population in general hasn’t risen up and said, we want more restrictions, we want more control of this virus.
S2: OK, there are a few answers to that. There are a few answers to everything there. There is one aspect that has to do with wishful thinking or desires. One is we want this to turn out well. Another one is we want to be able to live as we always have. And the third one is we want to believe that our country is good and is doing the right thing. So those are the kind of wishful thinking aspects of all of this. If you want to call it complacency or whatever, there is another aspect, and that is that the public health agency and in particular undershooting know the state epidemiologist had every day during the week. I had a press conference at two o’clock now in the summer. It’s only twice a week, but until recently, every day during the week, they had this and everybody was watching it. And basically they always said, this is looking good. You know, we’re going to be heading in the right direction. We know it’s it’s hard on the hospitals, but we’re swimming is going in the right direction, you know, with a very calm. And they’d say that even as the numbers were going up. You know, it was always the numbers are going up, but it’s but it’s flattening out. You know, it’s not going up as steeply anymore. And in the beginning, they said, oh, we’re going to reach the peak tomorrow. And then, you know, the next day, oh, maybe the people come in two days. There was always a positive message at those press conferences every day. And, you know, when somebody who you want to trust says those things in such a calming way, people want to believe it, too. Doesn’t want to believe it.
S1: Did you notice any kind of change in the Swedish perspective on their approach as the death numbers climbed, as the infection rates climbed?
S2: Well, here you have to look at different things. The support for the Swedish policy lessened. It used to be very high, not as high anymore. I would still say it’s pretty strong, the support, but it’s it’s definitely much more polarized compared to how it was also that the newspapers, the editorials started getting much more critical, not necessarily the reporters themselves, but the editorials started getting more critical. But what hasn’t changed and hasn’t changed in the least is the policy of the public health agency and of the government. They’re sticking to their guns.
S1: In some ways, it seems like Sweden is doing deliberately what the US has done with like incompetence and neglect.
S2: Yeah, and I don’t know how successful you could call it when Five-fold. I mean, you know, we have higher death numbers per million than the US does. The US has more deaths per million right now. You know. Last couple of weeks, but overall, Sweden has higher death numbers per million inhabitants than the US does.
S1: Right now, though, coronavirus cases are actually on the decline in Sweden. Last week, Sweden’s daily Kofod count dipped to its lowest point since May. The director of the country’s health agency said, we are beginning to approach levels that other countries find acceptable. What does it mean to you that Sweden’s numbers are going down now? Does that mean that there’s been some kind of success?
S2: Well, they’re not at all going down as as radically as those countries who had lockdown’s in Sweden is still much higher than the surrounding countries and many other countries. But it is going down now. That could be different explanations for this, because the spread is still you know, it’s still spreading. And among the young, it is spreading a lot. So one of the reasons it’s going down is and I’m speculating, but, you know, these are reasonable speculations. One of the reasons is that the health care facilities now have much more their routines are much better worked out so that it’s not striking the elderly to the same extent. Another reason it’s going down is because you have to know what happens in Sweden come midsummer. It’s like Sweden stops, OK, from the 20th of June until the 1st of August. Sweden is a summer vacation place. OK, this is this. This is this. This is the Swedish. So we love our summers, whether they’re raining, whether it’s raining or not. And that means that people are in the country, houses that are not working. They’re not taking public transportation to the same extent. There’s much more social distancing for natural reasons right now. So that’s another aspect.
S1: What are people thinking about school, about businesses? Is it just back to normal?
S2: Well, this is this is it. I mean, our schools were open except for high school and universities. The kids were all going to school, which was scary, really scary for some people because they maybe had parents with risk factors. And it was a really scary situation for a lot of people. But they were forced to go to school, the kids, if the parents kept the kids home. They were threatened with social interventions. Now the high schools will will be open again, too. So people won’t be going back to school.
S1: Does that worry you?
S2: Course. Now, what we are wondering is, will they finally change the policy in the fall? Will they say, please? Where effacement. I’m not only worried, but curious about what what what will happen in September. And we don’t know.
S1: Do you think about leaving Sweden because of all of us?
S2: No, no, no. I doubt I can permanently or just to just for a year maybe.
S1: I don’t know.
S2: No, I don’t, because I feel like it’s important what we do when we’re here. We are the voice of opposition, if you want to call it that, with, you know, the people we call ourselves the 22. I mean, we have zoo meetings and all the time where we’re doing videos, we’re running articles. I mean, I feel like I can’t leave this. I mean, we have to keep doing it, even if it hasn’t helped much until now. We have to keep doing it. And, of course, I would prefer to be able to go to the supermarket and see all my friends and not have to talk to them or WhatsApp and stuff like that. Sure. But I don’t feel like I can’t control the situation here. I mean, I have to be much more cautious than I would be in Finland or Norway for sure, which is a shame. But I, I can control my situation fairly well.
S3: Lena Horne, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you. Lena Einhorn is an author, filmmaker and former medical researcher. And that’s the show. What Next is produced by Jason de Leon, Daniel Hewett, Mary Wilson and our film producer Daniel Eavis. Welcome, Daniel.
S1: We can help everyday from Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedikt. Thank you for listening. I’m Mary Harris. Talk to you tomorrow.