Ontario Needs the Swedish Model

January 11, 2021 Updated: January 11, 2021

Commentary

“We’re in a desperate situation, and when you see the modelling, you’ll fall off your chair,” an agitated Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a press on Jan. 8. “There will be further measures, because this is getting out of control. … This is so, so serious. This is the most serious situation we’ve ever been in ever, ever, since the start of this pandemic.”

Ford’s panic is understandable. He admits to having no answer for Ontario’s soaring COVID cases, hospital admissions, and deaths. All government attempts to date to outmanoeuvre the virus have proved futile. In desperation, Ford is now talking of tightening the lockdowns and says “everything is on the table.”

But one option surely isn’t on the table—the one option that would likely have made the virus a largely spent force by now. Ford isn’t considering the Swedish option, which to date has employed few government-imposed restrictions: no massive lockdowns, little mandatory masking, few border closings or travel restrictions, no interference with fundamental human freedoms. Even the pandemic legislation that Sweden just passed, replacing expired pandemic legislation that was never used, is ultra lenient by Western standards and will expire this September. The architect of Sweden’s voluntary approach, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, remains hugely popular, his 59 percent approval rating almost twice that of the government’s, despite relentless attacks from the mass media and the country’s elite.

While Ontario’s daily deaths are averaging around 50 and rising, Sweden’s are averaging in the teens and falling. While Ontario’s hospital system faces inundation from COVID patients needing ICU beds, Sweden has room to spare; its hospital system as a whole has generally maintained a healthy overcapacity throughout the pandemic, something Ontario’s hospital system couldn’t even claim in pre-COVID days.

Sweden did have a poor record early on, when it failed to protect its seniors in long-term-care facilities, when little was known about who was vulnerable and less was known about what therapies would save lives. Even so, Sweden fared passably.

Overall, Sweden logged fewer COVID deaths per capita than many of Europe’s lockdown countries such as the UK, Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy, and of late Sweden also fares better than its Scandinavian neighbour, Denmark. And Sweden has done well in preventing the non-COVID “deaths of despair” that arise when people are unemployed or isolated, the consequence of lockdowns. In Canada, according to a Macdonald-Laurier Institute study, over time “suicide, depression, alcohol use disorder, childhood trauma due to domestic violence, changes in marital status, and social isolation are projected to cause millions of years of life lost.”

When Ontario government models project how many lives lockdowns can save, they don’t count how many lives those lockdowns take, let alone the misery and the economic costs they inflict. A proper accounting recognizing that all lives matter would likely show lockdowns to be net killers.

Sweden has fewer excess deaths (deaths that exceed those in typical years) than other European countries and may have ended 2020 with overall death rates comparable to previous years. A November study published on medRxiv of all deaths showed that Swedes didn’t die in untoward numbers; they mostly just died at different times. “Our study shows that all-cause mortality was largely unchanged during the epidemic as compared to the previous four years in Norway and Sweden, two countries which employed very different strategies against the epidemic” state the study’s authors. “Furthermore, excess mortality was limited to individuals older than 70 years.”

Today, when so much more about the pandemic is understood, Sweden shines; according to Johns Hopkins data, of those currently infected, four-tenths of one percent are in serious or critical condition, one-third Ontario’s rate. Yet instead of learning from Sweden’s approach, Ontario continues to fail its citizens by running off half-cocked, wasting time and effort implementing policies willy-nilly for non-problems, such as those targeting young healthies who face virtually no risk of harm rather than those at genuine risk.

As Ontario’s public health figures show, the vast majority of outbreaks occur in at-risk settings that are government-run or government-regulated, chiefly long-term-care homes, nursing homes, and hospitals. Rather than looking after his own knitting these many months by generously staffing up long-term-care homes to ensure front-line workers are amply compensated, as well as building permanent new hospital capacity along with field hospitals to handle surges that may occur, Ford instead points the finger at the blameless, saying, “if we don’t have the co-operation of the people, this is going to get out of hand.”

Retail, for example, accounts for a mere 4 percent of all outbreaks, of which half come from restaurants, bars, and nightclubs and less than one-quarter from gyms and yoga studios. Yet Ford thinks nothing of shutting down these establishments that bear little to no responsibility for the harm.

Ford doesn’t need “the co-operation of the people” to stop the virus from getting out of hand. He needs competence in his administration, and the courage to buck the conventional lockdown wisdom that is bringing the province to ruin.

Lawrence Solomon is a columnist, author, and executive director of Consumer Policy Institute. 

@LSolomonTweets

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.