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Sweden Liberates its Elderly and Takes Another Step Back to Normality

Faced with a small rise in Covid cases, what does Sweden do? Not clamp down hard, as we have, but abolish all remaining restrictions on the elderly, declaring they’ve suffered enough. Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph has more.

Sweden has rejected lockdown and face masks, but infections there are on the rise again. Yesterday, its public health agency published a report noting this – and pointing out that the elderly are at the gravest risk. In any other country, you could guess what would come next: a crackdown or curfew, a ban on socialising, a “rule of six”, no more seeing grandchildren. But what the officials had to say next was – to British ears – astonishing.

The elderly, they said, have suffered enough. They have spent months being advised to avoid public transport, shopping malls and other parts of everyday life. And the result? Loneliness. Misery. This is more than unpleasant: it quickly translates into depression, mental health issues and mortality. “We cannot only think about infection control,” said Lena Hallengren, Sweden’s health minister, “we also need to think about public health.” An important distinction: focus on Covid to the exclusion of other conditions and you risk lives.

Sweden is perhaps the first country in the world to make this case so clearly: isolation kills too. We now know much more about the virus, said Ms Hallengren, but we also know more about the side effects of lockdown – and even in Sweden’s case (where restrictions were voluntary) these effects are severe. Her 21-page report found a “decline in mental health” that was “likely to worsen the longer the recommendations remain in place”. So restrictions for the over-70s have been abolished forthwith, even with Covid rising (albeit slowly). And all this in the name of public health, not the economy.

This may sound at odds with the Great Barrington Declaration strategy of focused protection of the vulnerable. But in fact it’s the endpoint of it: to reach a level of population immunity in a relatively short space of time that allows restrictions on the high-risk to be lifted. Sweden may well still see the usual rise in respiratory disease this winter, but its public health officials have evidently concluded it is unlikely to include a large new deadly wave of Covid. The evidence to date suggests they’re right. Once again, Sweden pioneers a different way. Let’s hope this time we learn from them.

Stop Press: Sweden is also allowing large gatherings to take place, provided the total number is 300 or below.