Doctors, scientists attack Sweden ‘lies’
Sweden's relaxed approach to living with COVID-19 has been the subject of international scrutiny, but now a group of 200 scientists, medical experts and teachers are turning up the heat on the official version of events.
The group, of which Australian expat and former epidemiologist David Steadson is a member, told news.com.au they are challenging "unethical, unresearched and unsubstantiated reporting of the disastrous handling of the pandemic in Sweden".
They have taken exception with what they call "flawed and cherry-picked science" within the Swedish Public Health Agency which is managing the response to COVID-19.
Keith Begg, the founder of the group, said a recent report by the agency comparing schools in Sweden and Finland was an example of misinformation.
The report aimed to compare the effect of different approaches on the rate of COVID-19 infections among schoolchildren. It noted that Sweden kept schools open and Finland closed them.
"In conclusion, closure or not of schools has had little if any impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school aged children in Finland and Sweden," the report noted.
But there's a big problem with that assertion.
As Science Mag noted in May, Sweden missed an opportunity to "definitively answer the question" about infections in schools because "officials have not tracked infections among schoolchildren - even when large outbreaks led to the closure of individual schools".
Mr Begg says the report draws the conclusion there is no difference in the overall incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, cases but fails to mention Sweden's leading epidemiologist Anders Tegnell paused the collection of data from children because he thought it would create anxiety among the public.
"The problem with this report and indeed others from the (agency) is that they are now being cited by policy-makers and decision-makers across the world as a way to open schools when the reports are gravely flawed," Mr Begg said.
"They offer a tantalising solution to desperate governments across the world looking for a way to get their societies back on track. But they are based on flawed and cherry-picked science."
An email sent to Mr Begg from a Public Health Agency epidemiologist was seen by news.com.au. It reads, in part: "I'm sorry the report seems to infuriate you so much but this is just a report and not a peer-reviewed scientific study."
It goes on to say: "This was just a quick situation report and nothing more."
Mr Steadson, who joined the group after becoming dismayed with the handling of the pandemic in his new home country, told news.com.au last week that he is "disgusted" with the Swedish public health team.
"The Swedish strategy is not a success, it is a failure," he said.
"Allowing a deadly virus to just spread in the hope of eventual 'herd immunity' made no sense to me scientifically, given our then limited knowledge, and it absolutely made no sense to me ethically.
"People would die unnecessarily and I was frankly disgusted with what I was hearing from the Swedish Public Health Agency."
More than 85,000 people have contracted the virus and 5800 people have died. But in recent weeks, data out of Sweden appears to show a reduction in the spread of the virus in a move that officials have dubbed "vindication" of the Swedish approach.
In the last week just 1.3 per cent of tests showed COVID-19 cases, compared to more than 19 per cent at the pandemic's peak. The number is lower than in neighbouring Norway and Denmark.
Sweden's cases of COVID-19 peaked on June 24 with 1698 infections according to data compiled the US' Johns Hopkins University. Deaths hit 115 per day on several days in April.
By contrast, neighbouring Denmark, which had a much stricter lockdown, only saw a daily peak of 390 and 22 deaths.
However, Denmark, along with many other European nations, has seen cases swing back up again. Yet infections in Sweden have remained at around 200 or so a day for several months. That's still a lot, but it's a huge drop from where they were and crucially it's stable and seemingly not leading to many fatalities.
Daily deaths sunk into single figures around mid-July and haven't picked up since.
Despite that, editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Nick Talley, says Sweden got it wrong.
"In my view, the Swedish model has not been a success, at least to date," he told news.com.au.
"One clear goal at least early on was reach herd immunity - but this was not achieved, not even close, and this was arguably predictable.
"There were restrictions put in place but the philosophy was voluntary rather than compulsory. There is evidence there was a major impact of this voluntary lockdown on behaviour as reflected in, for example, reduced mobility and spending. However the spread of COVID-19 and the death rate was substantially higher in Sweden compared with its neighbours who mandated lockdowns."
Originally published as Doctors, scientists attack Sweden 'lies'