No wonder the news media are totally silent about the data that show that Sweden’s open society policy was what the rest of the world should have done, too. Numerous studies have shown Sweden’s excess death rate to be among the lowest in Europe during the pandemic and in several analyses, Sweden was at the bottom.
This is remarkable considering that Sweden has admitted that it did too little to protect people living in nursing homes.
Unlike the rest of the world, Sweden largely avoided implementing mandatory lockdowns, instead relying on voluntary curbs on social gatherings, and keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open. Face masks were not mandated and it was very rare to see any Swede dressed as a bank robber.
The Swedish Public Health Agency “gave more advice than threatened punishment” while the rest of the world installed fear in people. “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. Maybe people are willing to accept very strong restrictions if the fear is great enough.”
If we turn to other issues than mortality, it is clear that the harms done by the draconian lockdowns in the rest of the world have been immense in all sorts of ways.
For any intervention in healthcare, we require proof that the benefits exceed the harms. This principle was one of the first and most important victims of the pandemic. Politicians all over the world panicked and lost their heads, and the randomised trials we so badly needed to guide us were never carried out.
We should abbreviate the great pandemic to the great panic.
In my book, “The Chinese virus: Killed millions and scientific freedom,” from March 2022, I have a section about lockdowns.
Lockdown, a questionable intervention
The reborn intolerance toward alternative ideas has been particularly acrimonious in the debate about lockdowns.
There are two main ways to respond to viral pandemics, described in two publications that both came out in October 2020.
The Great Barrington Declaration is only 514 words, with no references. It emphasizes the devastating effects of lockdowns on short- and long-term public health, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed. Arguing that for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than influenza, it suggests that those at minimal risk of death should live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection and to establish herd immunity in the society.
It recommends focused protection of the vulnerable. Nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing for COVID-19 of other staff and all visitors. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home and should meet family members outside when possible.
Staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone. Schools, universities, sports facilities, restaurants, cultural activities, and other businesses should be open. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.
I have not found anything in the Declaration to be factually wrong.
The other publication is the John Snow Memorandum, which came out two weeks later. Its 945 words are seriously manipulative. There are factual inaccuracies, and several of its 8 references are to highly unreliable science. The authors claim that SARS-CoV-2 has high infectivity, and that the infection fatality rate of COVID-19 is several times higher than that of seasonal influenza.
This is not correct (see Chapter 5), and the two references the authors use are to studies using modelling, which are highly bias-prone.
They also claim that transmission of the virus can be mitigated through the use of face masks, with no reference, even though this was, and still is, a highly doubtful claim.
“The proportion of vulnerable people constitute as much as 30% of the population in some regions.” This was cherry-picking from yet another modelling study whose authors defined increased risk of severe disease as one of the conditions listed in some guidelines. With such a broad definition, it is easy to scare people. However, they did not tell their readers that the modelling study also estimated that only 4% of the global population would require hospital admission if infected,36 which is similar to influenza.
The two declarations did not elicit enlightened debates, but strongly emotional exchanges of views on social media devoid of facts. The vitriolic attacks were almost exclusively directed against those supporting the Great Barrington Declaration, and many people, including its authors, experienced censorship from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
The Great Barrington Declaration has three authors; the John Snow Memorandum has 31. The former was published on a website, which is kept alive, the latter in Lancet, which gives its many authors prestige.
In 2021, over 900,000 people had signed the Great Barrington Declaration, including me, as I have always found that the drastic lockdowns we have had, with all its devastating consequences for our societies, were neither scientifically nor ethically justified. I did Google searches to get an idea how much attention the two declarations have had. For the Great Barrington Declaration, there were 147,000 results; for the John Snow Memorandum only 5,500.
The Great Barrington Declaration has not had much political impact. It is much easier for politicians to be restrictive than keeping the societies open. Once a country has taken drastic measures, such as lockdowns and border closings, other countries are accused of being irresponsible if they don’t do the same – even though their effect is unproven. Politicians will not get in trouble for measures that are too draconian, only if it can be argued that they did too little.
In March 2021, Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya, two of the three authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, drew attention to some of the consequences of the current climate of intolerance. In many cases, eminent scientific voices have been effectively silenced, often with gutter tactics. People who oppose lockdowns have been accused of having blood on their hands and their university positions threatened.
Many have chosen to stay quiet rather than face the mob, for example Jonas Ludvigsson, after he had published a ground-breaking Swedish study making it clear that it is safe to keep schools open during the pandemic, for children and teachers alike. This was taboo.
Kulldorff and Bhattacharya argued that with so many COVID-19 deaths, most of which have been in old people, it should be obvious that lockdown strategies have failed to protect the old.
The attacks on the Great Barrington Declaration appear to have been orchestrated from the top. On 8 October 2020, Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), sent a denigrating email to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and advisor for several US Presidents, where he wrote:
“This proposal from the three fringe epidemiologists who met with the Secretary seems to be getting a lot of attention – and even a co-signature from Nobel Prize winner Mike Leavitt at Stanford. There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down of its premises. I don’t see anything like that online yet – is it underway?”
Stefan Baral, an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins, reported that a letter he wrote about the potential harms of population-wide lockdowns in April 2020 was rejected by more than 10 scientific journals and 6 newspapers, sometimes with the pretence that there was nothing useful in it. It was the first time in his career that he could not get a piece placed anywhere.
In September 2021, BMJ allowed Gavin Yamey and David Gorski to publish an attack on the Great Barrington Declaration called, Covid-19 and the new merchants of doubt. A commentator hit the nail when he wrote:
“This is a shoddy smear that is not for publication. The authors have not shown where their targets are scientifically incorrect, they just attack them for receiving funding from sources they dislike or having their videos and comments removed by social media corporations as if that was some indication of guilt.”
Kulldorff has explained what is wrong with the article. They claimed the Declaration provides support to the anti-vaccine movement and that its authors are peddling a “well-funded sophisticated science denialist campaign based on ideological and corporate interests.” But nobody paid the authors any money for their work or for advocating focused protection, and they would not have undertaken it for a professional gain, as it is far easier to stay silent than put your head above the parapet.
Gorski is behaving like a terrorist on social media, and he is perhaps a troll. Without having any idea what I had decided to talk about, or what my motives and background were, he tweeted about me in 2019 that I had “gone full on antivax.” My talk was about why I am against mandatory vaccination for an organisation called Physicians for Informed Consent. Who could be against informed consent? But when I found out who the other speakers were, I cancelled my talk.
In January 2022, Cochrane published a so-called rapid review of the safety of reopening schools or keeping them open. The 38 included studies comprised 33 modelling studies, three observational studies, one quasi‐experimental and one experimental study with modelling components. Clearly, nothing reliable can come out of this, which the authors admitted: “There were very little data on the actual implementation of interventions.”
Using modelling, you can get any result you want, depending on the assumptions you put into the model. But the authors’ conclusion was plain nonsense: “Our review suggests that a broad range of measures implemented in the school setting can have positive impacts on the transmission of SARS‐CoV‐2, and on healthcare utilisation outcomes related to COVID‐19.”
They should have said that since there were no randomised trials, we don’t know if school closures do more good than harm. What they did is what Tom Jefferson has called “garbage in and garbage out … with a nice little Cochrane logo on it.”
About the failing scientific integrity of Cochrane reviews, the funder of the UK Cochrane groups noted in April 2021 that, “This is a point raised by people in the Collaboration to ensure that garbage does not go into the reviews; otherwise, your reviews will be garbage.”
Even though there was nothing to conclude from it, the authors filled 174 pages – about the length of the book you are currently reading – about the garbage they included in their review, which was funded by the Ministry of Education and Research in Germany.
A 2020 rapid systematic review in a medical journal found that school closures did not contribute to the control of the SARS epidemic in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Lockdowns could even make matters worse. If children are sent home to be looked after by their grandparents because their parents are at work, it could bode disaster for the grandparents. Before the COVID-19 vaccines became available, the median age of those who died was 83.
The whole world missed a fantastic opportunity to find out what the truth was by randomising some schools to be closed while keeping others open, but such trials were never done. Atle Fretheim, research director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, tried to do a trial but failed. In March 2020, Norwegian government officials were unwilling to keep schools open. Two months later, as the virus waned, they refused to keep schools closed. Norwegian TV shot the messenger: “Crazy researcher wants to experiment with children.” What was crazy was not to do the study. Craziness was also the norm in USA. In many large American cities, bars were open while schools were closed.
When people argue for or against lockdowns and how long they should last and for whom, they are on uncertain ground. Sweden tried to go on with life as usual, without major lockdowns. Furthermore, Sweden has not mandated the use of face masks and very few people have used them.