Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category

Covid puts ethics under pressure in Sweden

July 18, 2020

The Wuhan virus pandemic is bringing many ethical questions about the treatment of the aged into stark relief.

90% of all deaths in Sweden due to the Wuhan virus have been of those over 70 years. I have been less than impressed by the Government and the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) in Sweden. Their “remaining useful life” criterion is rational but hypocritical in trying to maintain the pretense of it not being age discrimination. They have effectively removed those over 70 from their definition of the herd to be protected. Even the trade unions were extremely concerned about protective equipment for their members working in the care sector. They threatened to strike at some care homes. I suppose that very few inmates of the care homes are active trade union members.

Suspected cases in care homes were usually kept away from the health care system and its facilities. The health system was under stress but never overwhelmed. Isolating those over 70 certainly helped reduce the pressure on the health services, but did not protect the over 70s from themselves being infected in their care “prisons”. In most cases the inmates were infected by their carers. However, unlike the inmates, the carers had recourse to the hospitals. The isolation also eliminated – probably as intended –  any chance of the +70s participating in any herd immunity that may develop. In the fight against the Wuhan virus, “Official Sweden” (from government to bureaucrats), has taken the position that the over 70s are not part of the herd and are expendable.

Take this ethical question:

When an 80+ year old in a care home contracts a treatable condition (bacterial pneumonia for example), but is misdiagnosed (assumed) to have the Wuhan virus and, without any further testing, is put on “palliative” care (morphine) leading inevitably to death, is it 

    1. unfortunate accident? or
    2. humane care?, or
    3. negligence?, or
    4. incompetence?, or
    5. euthanasia?, or
    6. justifiable manslaughter?, or
    7. murder?

“Official Sweden” has generally taken the comfortable position that such cases  – and there are more than a few – are all “unfortunate accidents”. I would put it less complacently at 3 on the list above or even higher.

The nice thing about “unfortunate accidents” is that nobody is accountable and nobody needs to take any responsibility.


The great success and the great betrayal of the Swedish coronavirus strategy

July 3, 2020

The Swedish lockdown has been more voluntary than enforced. The over 70’s were told to quarantine themselves to protect the health system. Since the compliance with the voluntary social distancing requirements has been quite high, the spread of infection has not been much worse than in many countries enforcing very strict lockdowns. In total number of deaths due to the Chinese virus, Sweden sticks out among its Scandinavian neighbors who enforced much stricter lockdowns. But Sweden is not an outlier among other European countries. Economically, Sweden will probably be among the countries which recover fastest.

The Swedish strategy has been both a great success and a great failure. The numbers tell the tale.

source: worldometers

There is no right or wrong to the various strategies applied by different countries. Decisions have probably been made in good faith though these have been dominated by the culture of fear and risk aversion that permeates the world today. The fear of alarmist, imaginary crises has meant the world was totally unprepared for a real crisis. The impotence of a politicized WHO and the duplicity of a terrified Chinese bureaucracy has not helped. The stupidity of relying on imperfect and alarmist mathematical models was very evident.

But diving into the Swedish statistics also shows great successes among some very great betrayals.

Only 10% of the deaths have been of those under 70. Based on the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) criterion of “expected remaining life”, the loss of expected remaining life has been kept to a minimum. The 90% of deaths of those above 70 do not contribute much to “expected remaining life”. Among the “productive” population the loss of life has been kept down to about 50/million of population. That is the great success. 

Also among the successes have been:

  • intensive care places were more than doubled in a very short time
  • intensive care places were never overwhelmed
  • restarting the economy is well under way, and
  • herd immunity may not yet have been achieved but the risk of infection to the general population under 70 is greatly reduced. (Effectively, Swedish policy excludes the +70s from the herd).

But the cost has been the betrayal of the elderly. The unvoiced, undercurrent of opinion is that “but they were going to die soon anyway”. Care homes became virtual prisons for their inmates. Following the Socialstyrelsen’s publishing of their criteria for prioritizing lives based on “expected remaining life”, there were cases of those infected in care homes being denied oxygen and respirators. There have been cases where they have been put directly onto palliative care (sometimes a euphemism for a self-fulfilling, end-of-life care). The Swedish government through up its hands and abdicated its responsibilities to the bureaucracy of the Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) and of the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen). The Public Health Agency were, I think the heroes, at least for honesty and fidelity and for stepping-up, if not always for compassion. The Health Services were also among the heroes. The bureaucrats of the Socialstyrelsen were hypocritical, mealy-mouthed and less than impressive. The reality, which is the opposite of what they often voiced, is that the elderly are second, or even third, class citizens in Sweden. The Swedish herd has protected itself by excluding the elderly from the herd.

I am over 70 and may be a trifle biased. But the villains of this pandemic internationally are the Chinese bureaucracy, the Alarmist Brigade and the WHO. Within Sweden, the villains are the government and the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).

And even if herd immunity is achieved, the over 70’s will remain at great risk until such time as a vaccine is developed. Every herd protects itself by sacrificing the weak and the sick. And the old.


Fatality League: Without the 70+ deaths, Sweden would be doing very well

April 14, 2020

The pandemic is far from over, but as some countries contemplate or begin to relax their lockdowns, it is not too early to begin to look at some of the emerging data.

With its 10.1 million population Sweden has suffered over 1,000 deaths due to Covid-19. In the fatality league (deaths/million of population), Sweden has by far the worst numbers in Scandinavia and lies among the worst 10 globally (and in Europe) as of 14th April 2020. (Countries with fewer than 100 deaths are not included). Almost 90% of the fatalities in Sweden are of those over 70. Without these included, Sweden would have a fatality rate just one tenth of that observed.

I merely observe that in a mathematical model which gives little value to the lives of those over 70, Sweden would be doing very well indeed.

The questions are accumulating but any attempt at answers will have to wait at least a year.

Death League (as of 14th April 2020)

Some of the questions that will have to be addressed in Sweden at some time are:

  • Most countries have used “worst case” models (which are always ridiculously alarmist) but Sweden has used, it seems, “best case” models. Why?
  • Do the mathematical models give a lower “value” to the lives of the 70+?
  • Policy has been to restrict the movement of those over 70 to reduce load on the health service in case they are infected. However the infection carriers are the young and the mobile. Has the policy led to more of the 70+ being infected or less?
  • How much of the spread of infection was initiated/due to returning, asymptomatic tourists from the Alps who were neither tested nor quarantined?
  • Almost 90% of the dead in Sweden are 70+. Was this modeled at all?
  • How many of the 70+ were “prisoners” to infection in their care homes?
  • Was the main source of infection in the care homes through infected but asymptomatic staff?
  • Sweden has more than doubled Intensive Care Places in the last month. By establishing “priorities” for intensive care, Sweden has succeeded in ensuring that they have not been full to the limit. How many of the 70+ were denied Intensive Care due to the “priorities” established by the Social Welfare Board? (Priority is based on “expected life remaining”).
  • Was it optimal that unlike in other countries, leadership was abdicated by politicians in favour of the officials of the National Health Board.
  • …….
  • ….



In Sweden, coronavirus deaths are almost invisible among average daily deaths

April 12, 2020

In response to great demand Sweden’s Statistics Central Bureau (SCB) has published daily deaths (all causes) data for 2015 – 2020.

For the month of March 2020, the daily total deaths do not appear much different than the average for 2015-2019. The average daily death toll is about 250 (+/- 30). The coronavirus has been responsible (so far) for about 30 fatalities per day but there is some probable offset due to reduction of deaths from some other causes. During March there is no visible spike in total daily deaths that can be attributed to the coronavirus.

Daily Deaths March 2020 compared to average 2015-2019

We can never know what it would have been without a lockdown. What is visible during March is that with the voluntary lockdown in place, fatalities by all causes have not increased significantly.

In a few months, when the outbreak has been brought under control, I will not be surprised if we will be asking if the level of economic disruption was worth it.


Swedish coronavirus policy least successful of the Nordic countries

April 8, 2020

Much as I admire Anders Tegnell (Sweden’s Chief epidemiologist) he appeared, at today’s press conference, to be brushing aside the differences between the Nordic countries a little too lightly. I am sure the health services have done a fantastic job. But, for whatever the reason, Sweden’s policy has so far resulted in many more fatalities (actual and per capita) than in the surrounding Nordic countries. The fatality rate is almost twice that of the next nearest Nordic country (Denmark). There is most likely a lapse of policy, rather than lack of equipment or failure of care, which lies behind this reality.

The reason is probably not unconnected with the overwhelming representation of the over-70’s (88% of all deaths in Sweden) among the fatalities.  (They are not particularly over-represented in the number of cases registered). It seems as if many of these older people were a “captive and doomed” population, stuck helplessly within their care homes – not protected in time from infection by the developing policy.


Note for reference:

In the Nordic countries the crude mortality rate (all causes) is between 7,000  and 8,000 per million of population every year. Sweden would normally see about 70,000 -80,000 deaths every year (all causes) compared to the 687 attributed so far to covid-19.

In Italy with a population of 60 million, there would be about 450,000 deaths due to all causes every year. The deaths attributed to covid-19 are currently about 17,500.


Have the old been sacrificed in Sweden?

April 8, 2020

We can never know what might have been.

But the aged in their care-homes did not go out and bring in the virus. They were infected by others. As of 7th April, 7,693 cases have been registered in Sweden and 591 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus. Of these 2,807 cases (36% of total cases) and 519  deaths (88% of all deaths) were of people over 70 years old. Just in Stockholm’s care homes, 159 deaths have been registered. The major difference in deaths per capita between Sweden and the other Nordic countries is the much higher number of deaths among the old in Sweden.

It may well be that those infected mildly and showing no symptoms have been the main carriers of the virus. In one department at a major hospital more than half of all the employees were without symptoms but were infected with Covid-19.

Of course, there is a youth obsession in Sweden. Of course, those who are labeled “retired” have a lower value. Of course, the care-homes are a place for the old to be tucked away out of sight. Of course, there is a formal perception that with a lower “expected remaining life”, the old have a lower value to society and get a lower priority for care. It could have been worse, of course.

It may not have been intentional but the numbers say that in the fight against the coronavirus, the old have been sacrificed in Sweden.

As of 7th April 2020


When healthy and young has priority over sick and old


Sweden: Flattening the curve (update 1)

March 31, 2020

The time-series of new Covid-19 cases detected every day might suggest that a peak has been passed.

However, it is very difficult on the exponential growth section to be able to tell when the curve begins to flatten off. The growth of Covid-19 cases is better looked at, I think, in terms of new cases against the cumulative number of cases rather than just the traditional time-series. A caveat is that the number of positive cases depends upon the testing strategy. Nevertheless plotting the daily new cases against the cumulative cases on logarithmic scales is a better guide as to whether exponential growth is still occurring.

There are indications that the growth may just be getting off the exponential growth rate but it is not clear yet.

In any event I prefer this plot to the simple time-series.

Sweden’s voluntary lock-down may be able to flatten the curve


Coronavirus ethics: When healthy and young has priority over sick and old

March 29, 2020

In the last few days, the prospect of limited intensive care places and too many patients has become more real. Professors of philosophy have been sought after for their views. In Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has produced new guidelines so that doctors and nurses forced to make life and death choices have support for their decisions. The guiding principle is stated to be the “expected remaining lifetime” without consideration of “social standing, disabilities or actual age”. Of course this is inherently contradictory since expected remaining lifetime and actual age cannot be divorced. In their new guidelines the Board skates over this contradiction by claiming that it is “biological age” that is being considered and not “actual age”.

The guidelines define priorities for intensive care (my translation):

Priority 1: Patients who have a serious illness but are expected to survive longer than 12 months. If it becomes necessary to prioritize within this group, it must not be done based on the patient’s social situation / position,  any disabilities or the person’s actual age. It may, however, be based on what is called biological age. The latter means that the expected life expectancy is calculated using a number of factors. Those who are younger are then given priority over the older if the health status of both is otherwise equal. But conversely, a patient who is older but otherwise in good health should be given priority over a younger person who, due to illness or otherwise, is expected to live shorter.

Priority 2: Patients with one or more severe systemic disorders with significant functional limitation. These include, for example, insufficiently controlled diabetes, COPD, morbid obesity (BMI ≥40), active hepatitis, alcohol abuse, pacemaker addiction and a heart attack or stroke older than three months. This group also includes those who have an expected survival of 6-12 months.

Priority 3: Patients with an expected low probability of survival. These may be cases where the intensive care unit is normally only used to enable a renewed assessment and consultation with related persons.

Swedish television reports:


If the corona crisis worsens, healthcare will be forced to prioritize – and patients who have had good prospects of coping may be rejected. “It can be so in an extreme situation”, says Lars Sandman, Professor of health ethics.

Health care always needs to be prioritized. But in a situation where the number of corona-infected who need intensive care is increasing dramatically, this can result in many difficult decisions. Therefore, new guidelines for priorities in health care have been developed on behalf of the National Board of Health and Welfare. “Suppose we get completely full departments with many very seriously ill people who have marginal conditions to come back to life after intensive care and then other more basically healthy people knock at the door. Then it can be a very difficult decision”, says Andreas Hvarfner, chief physician in anesthesia and intensive care at Karolinska University Hospital in Solna.

Will this mean that infected elderly patients who have severe diabetes, lung disease, pacemakers and are overweight are at risk of not receiving intensive care? “Of course, that may eventually be so” says Andreas Hvarfner.

Lars Sandman, professor of health ethics at Linköping University, has been involved in developing the new guidelines. “When faced with these difficult decisions, it is important that there is clear support and that one can lean back on ethical principles that in this case are legal and instituted by Parliament in 1997. We have tried to clarify how they should be interpreted” , he said.

If there is now a storm that many believe, will people prioritize between people who may have roughly the same conditions? “It can be so in an extreme situation. Then we have stated in the guidelines that you can choose the one that has the longest remaining life expectancy . We want to avoid getting into that situation and therefore we are working hard to get more intensive care places”. This means that young people do come ahead of the elderly if they have similar conditions to survive. According to Lars Sandman, the problem is that there are no alternatives. “You can of course imagine a queuing situation, but then you run the risk that a patient who may have less chance of survival gets the place and that two patients instead of one die in the end”.

Consider the case of two sick patients and only one intensive care place. Younger and healthier will always have a higher expected remaining life and have a higher priority. If both have the same chance of survival, the younger will always get priority. For an older person to get priority by the remaining lifetime criterion, the chance of survival will have to be much higher than for the younger person. The stipulation that social standing have no impact means that a younger, healthier, anti-social, scrounger will get a higher priority than a worthy, productive, sicker, older person.

Of course, this is oversimplified. In reality the chances of survival with intensive care have to be first judged against chances of survival without. It is unlikely that chances of survival without intensive care could both be zero in two cases which had widely different chances with intensive care.

Take:  expected remaining life = (life expectancy – actual age) x chance of survival

Let us assume a life expectancy of 90 years and a base case of a very sick 20 year old with only a 10% chance of survival. Expected remaining life would then be 10% of life remaining giving 7 years. An older person would have priority if their chance of survival was sufficient to give an expected life remaining of greater than 7 years. To get priority a 50 year old would need a chance of survival of 17.5%, a 70 year old would need 35% and and an 80 year old would need a 70% chance of survival. Anybody over 83 would never get priority – even if they had a 99% chance of survival.

Of course, it is age discrimination disguised with words (biological age) to ostensibly comply with the laws on discrimination. But the Board really has no choice.

The issue I have is not really with the Board but with the delusion that the value of humans is not connected to their social behaviour and the myth that humans are equal.


In Sweden there is some encouraging data, but ……..

March 28, 2020

I would expect that the really heavy load on the Swedish health care system is dominated by the number of coronavirus patients needing intensive care places. Of course any patient who needs hospitalization and isolation also raises the load. The number of tests to be carried out places a load on the labs and the health care system in general but probably not specifically on hospitals.

Maybe I am just an optimist and it is probably too early to be sure, but the daily number of cases needing intensive care has dropped over the last few days. At the time of writing there are a total of 310 Covid-19 patients in intensive care. The daily new cases for intensive care reached 43 and 42 respectively on 23rd and 24th March. However, there has been a drop in new cases since then.

Source: Swedish Intensive Care Register

The age and gender distribution of the 310 intensive care cases (as of 28th March) show a predominance of men and over 50% between the ages of 50 and 70. Those over 70 account for 28% of intensive care cases. It seems a relative under-representation which, in turn, suggests some success with the voluntary social distancing.

78% of those in intensive care are people with some “risk” condition (chronic heart-lung conditions, chronic liver-kidney conditions, hypertension, diabetes, ……)

It is far too early to draw any clear conclusions but possibly Sweden has yet to see any wave of Phase 3 “community transmission” of the virus.

My guess is that after 3 weeks of a voluntary lock-down, it will be time to start allowing manufacturing to restart, but that service businesses with high levels of customer contact will need another 3 weeks after that. The risk groups will probably need to practice social distancing for 2 – 3 months.


Sweden’s voluntary lock-down may be able to flatten the curve

March 26, 2020

Sweden has been following a voluntary lock-down for some time now. Those who feel ill (with a cold or influenza-like symptoms) have been asked to stay at home. Those over 70 have been asked to self-isolate, stay home and only go out if absolutely necessary. Formally, only public gatherings of over 500 are not permitted. People have been asked to be socially distant but there are no compulsive measures. The strategy is absolutely reliant upon people being responsible. Of course, there are cases of irresponsible young people. However, bearing in mind that the areas of critical judgement in the human brain are not fully developed till the age of 25, this is not too surprising. Mass testing for the virus is not being carried out. Only those who clearly show symptoms and require hospital treatment are tested. Large scale testing of hospital staff and health care workers is being done. So there is no clear number of how many are actually infected. The only reliable statistics are the number of those hospitalized, those in intensive care and those who have died. Of course, the markets have crashed and small businesses are dying. Travel services, restaurants and all the service industries are in deep trouble. Big companies are sending workers home and declaring redundancies at an alarming rate.  Economic support packages are being announced every few days.

Anders Tegnell is the chief epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency and is on the news every day. To me he has been the face of common sense, even if many “influencers”, some in the media and prominent celebrities have been crying out for draconian measures to be applied (always it seems, to others). Saint Greta has been starved of attention and has just dramatically announced that she has probably been infected with Covid-19 but is recovering. (!!!??). It is not yet clear if the relatively low-key Swedish approach has worked and it will be some time before this real crisis is over. It is quite interesting that Sweden takes the common sense approach when dealing with a real crisis but becomes hysterical when dealing with imaginary crises. Virus smart but climate dumb. However, every day that goes by without the number infected increasing sharply (“day zero” when exponential growth takes off) means that the time baseline has been extended and the potential peak has been reduced. It is thought that it needs 80 days after “day zero” for the virus to have run its course.

Anders Tegnell: “Contrary to many other countries, like Great-Britain or Germany, the number of infections in Sweden has not yet started to incline dramatically, despite the fact that 36 Swedes have already died of covid-19. No region, not even Stockholm where the virus has spread considerably, has already experienced their ‘day zero’. Everything lies still ahead of us. Moreover, day zero will most likely not arrive simultaneously in the different Swedish regions.”

As of writing there have been 44 deaths in Sweden attributed to the virus and nearly all had some other underlying conditions.

The voluntary approach can only work if the sense of civic responsibility is strong. Civic responsibility runs high here. I note that it had to be enforced in China where they seem to be coming out of the crisis. It also runs voluntarily very high in S Korea and Japan where the curve does seem to have been flattened.

At the personal level, we have been “social distancing” for more than a week. Our lives are somewhat discommoded. It isn’t quite warm enough to be out on the deck. Much needed and necessary surgery is inevitably being delayed since intensive care places are limited. We don’t have the usual network of relatives or friends to run our errands or do our shopping for us but I remain quite hopeful that common sense will prevail.


%d bloggers like this: