The UK, Spain and Belgium have all imposed more restrictions than Sweden during the pandemic; yet, according to statistics (z-score) Sweden are better off when it comes to all cause deaths in week 16¹ of 2020. France also locked down and has a similar (but worse) z-score to Sweden who never locked down at all... In fact, when looking at week 17 you see, Sweden is already recovering and the UK is way behind.. How can this be happening?
If you look at the Office For National Statistics data.² It shows that the week ending on the 17th of April (week 16) there were 22,351 deaths in the UK. The 5 year national average is 10,497 meaning we had about 11,854 excess deaths that week.
8,758 of those deaths had COVID-19 on the death certificate. Meaning there were officially 3,096 excess deaths that week which can not be attributed to the virus.
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We have to assume that at least a percentage of the deaths attributed to SARS-CoV-2 are people who were dying anyway (meaning they wouldn't contribute to the excess deaths). The fact is, for the vast majority (91% if we go by March³) of the deaths involving COVID-19, the person had at least one pre-existing condition.
So let's just say we had more than 3,096 excess deaths that week which were not attributed to the virus...
I think it's fair to assume that, many of these excess deaths could be directly linked to the lockdown itself. Like, suicides⁴, failure to seek medical help; either due to fear of contracting COVID or not wanting to burden the NHS, as well as delays in referrals⁵. Especially if you accept that things like, workplace deaths and road accidents should be lower than normal during lockdown.
I would also argue that if friends and families were not restricted with regards to visiting each other, there would be more awareness of people's health and therefore more pressure put on the sick to seek medical help.
When you consider that the UK, Spain and Belgium have all been in lockdown; and, according to the EuroMOMO statistics for week 16¹ have all had 'extremely high excess' deaths, compared to Sweden's (with no lockdown) 'very high excess', it's got to make you think.. Also, as I mentioned earlier, when looking at week 17, Sweden's z-score has improved and they've moved to 'high excess' while the UK is still stuck at 'extremely high excess'. Even though Sweden were a month behind the UK with regards to the arrival of the virus (see below)... They seem to be ahead with regards to recovery.
Although I acknowledge that comparing the UK to Sweden is a bit pointless when you can look at the difference between Sweden and their direct neighbours (who have much lower death rates). With half of the COVID-19 deaths in many European countries being in care homes⁶. I think that the main issue here could have been how fast homes closed to the public. Lets look at Sweden; one of the few restrictions they've made is to close care homes to visitors.. But they didn't do it until the 3rd of April⁷!!
Whereas Denmark started lockdown on the 11th of March⁸
Norway started on the 12th of March⁹ I can find reports of care homes in the UK being closed (voluntarily) as early as the 13th of March¹⁰, but officially lockdown started 10 days later on the 23rd¹¹.
Meaning, the UK 'locked down' 11/12 days after Denmark and Norway and only a week before Sweden closed care homes; even though, when checking the 'arrival dates' of the coronavirus, the country (Sweden) was a good month behind the UK.
After looking at the 'Arrival date' of the virus in the UK vs the Scandanavian countries I put all of them about a month behind us. Norway: 26 February¹²
Denmark: 27 February¹³
Sweden: This is tricky because the first case was 'a woman in Jönköping who had travelled to Sweden from Wuhan on 24 January directly from Wuhan. The case was fully isolated and there are no reports of further spread'... The second case was on the 26th February¹⁴, and it spread consistently from there. UK: 28th¹⁵ - 31st January¹⁶
Going from 'arrival date' (31st Jan) to the day in which a lot of care homes voluntarily closed to visitors in the UK (13th March) is 43 days or if we go to when lockdown started (23rd March) its 53 days!! If we do the same for Sweden: 38 days
Denmark: 14 days
Norway: 16 days
This would go some way to explain why Sweden, while doing worse than it's neighbours, is still doing better with regards to excess deaths, than the UK; even with the current lockdown.
The UK closed care homes too late, 39/37 days after Denmark/Norway, it looks like the arrival of COVID in those countries being a month behind the UK and the fact that they locked down early helped them protect care homes as a consequence... Sweden decided not to lock down AND failed to protect the vulnerable quickly enough (closing care homes only 15 days before the UK with reference to arrival date) which meant a third¹⁷ of Sweden's COVID-19 deaths occurred in care homes.
I would argue that this is why Sweden is doing badly compared to its neighbours. It shows that the excess deaths which have been experienced there, have little to do with the lack of lockdown. As well as, the reason their z-score has been similar; but better than the UK's, is their earlier closure of care homes...
At least I think this is a valid way to interpret the facts...
I also think it's worth noting that 'Experts' say that keeping the R number below 1 is a priority and during his announcement on the 10th of May Boris Johnson mentioned that 'the "R" number - the reproduction rate of the virus - would be crucial in deciding whether lockdown could be eased further¹⁸'.... Yet again... Sweden has already proven that we don't need an enforced lockdown by keeping its R number below 1 for the last few weeks¹⁹.
It turns out that if the UK had closed care homes to visitors in mid February and chosen not to lockdown, by week 16, COVID deaths would have been closer to 4000 than 8000, many of the 'lockdown' deaths would never have happened either, meaning deaths for that week would likely be (even allowing for up to 2000 non-COVID excess deaths) between 14,000 and 16,000, (no worse than a 'normal' bad week in any year) rather than the 22,351 it actually was.
For reference.. in week 2 of 2018 according to the Office for National Statistics there were 15,050 deaths...
While I know that hindsight is 20/20 and it is too late to prevent the deaths which have already occurred. I think there is enough evidence here to say that the changes announced on the 10th aren't enough and in order to prevent more unnecessary death in the UK (and to protect the economy), we should end the lockdown now... and at most, keep care homes closed, protect/isolate the vulnerable and limit visitors to hospital, etc.
The current response by the UK government has been a really late, overreaction and a huge economic disaster... The truth is, even when thinking of the 'elderly and vulnerable' (outside of institutions), this is a question of every individual's freedom to choose how much risk they want to put themselves in... They can self isolate if they want to; maybe family and friends would need to put extra effort into helping them do this... but who knows more about what you and your family need?... You? or Boris Johnson? Not only that; we live in a country where people are allowed to make bad decisions with regards to their own health every day if they chose to do so (smoking, overeating and drinking for example). That's freedom isn't it?
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