Fredrik Erixon writes in Spectator USA:
Sweden is sticking to its policy because, on the whole, it is balanced and effectual. So far, the actual development is generally following the government’s prediction. On Monday, 1,580 people had died and tested positive for COVID-19. The number of daily deaths has remained pretty stable at about 75 for a while but is not on a declining path. A lot more people will die in the next weeks and months but our death toll is far away from the pessimistic and alarmist predictions suggesting 80 to 90,000 people would die before the summer.
There are also encouraging signs that the growth of reported infections is also slowing down — a development that holds for both Stockholm (by far the worst affected region) and the rest of the country. The estimate from the Public Health Agency is that 100,000 people will show up at a hospital and test positive for COVID-19: the current headcount, just south of 14,800, suggests we are broadly in line with that estimate — if not below it.
Perhaps more important is the situation at our hospitals and their intensive care wards. The main ambition of suppression policies, after all, has been to avoid hospitals getting overwhelmed by patients they cannot treat because of shortages of staff, equipment and intensive care beds. Modelers in Sweden that have followed an Imperial College-type approach have suggested demand will peak at 8,000 to 9,000 patients in intensive care per day. But actual numbers are telling a very different story. Yes, the situation is stressful, but — mercifully — the growth in intensive care patients has slowed down remarkably and the number of patients currently in intensive care has flatlined.
We now have about 530 patients in intensive care in the country: our hospital capacity is twice as high at 1,100. Stockholm now averages about 220 critical care patients per day and its hospitals, far from being overwhelmed, have capacity for another 70. Stockholm also reports that it has several hundred inpatient care beds unoccupied and that people shouldn’t hesitate to seek hospital care if they feel sick. A new field ward has been set up in Stockholm for intensive and inpatient care and some predicted it would start getting patients two weeks ago. It hasn’t received any patients yet.
Sweden hasn’t declared ‘victory’ — far from it. It’s still early days in this pandemic and no one really knows yet how the virus will spread once restrictions are lifted and what excess mortality it will have caused when it’s all over. Sweden doesn’t know the size of its ‘iceberg’ — how many people that have had the virus with only mild or no symptoms. It will remain unclear for at least another couple of weeks if parts of Sweden (especially Stockholm) has developed some degree of herd immunity.
A recent test at Karolinska suggested that 11 percent of people in Stockholm had developed antibodies against the virus. Prof Jan Albert, who has led these tests, says the rate is most likely higher — perhaps substantially higher. So far they have only tested a small sample of blood donors and they can only donate if they are healthy and free of symptoms. Albert thinks the actual situation isn’t far away from the ballpark suggested by Prof Tom Britton in a study that was released this weekend: that between 25 and 40 percent of the Stockholm population have had the virus and that the region will reach herd immunity in late May. The Public Health Agency seems to be thinking along the same lines: by May 1, it predicts in a brand new study, 30 percent of the population in Stockholm will have had the virus.
These results are hopeful, even if they are still informed estimates and not observed reality. Nor will they change Swedish policy anytime soon. In fact, all the uncertainties around the future of this pandemic are part of the motivation for Sweden opting for a liberal approach. We have to plan for strong social distancing measures to remain in place for a long time and they won’t work if they are harder than necessary.