The problem is that science can’t tell if immunity is building in Sweden after the country has resisted blockades and let the virus spread through much of its population.
The UK has seen a record number of daily infections, but Johnson only tightened restrictions slightly, placing more emphasis on personal responsibility to prevent viral transmission, as Swedish authorities have done. The most significant change to the rules is at 10pm. curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants, forcing them to close only an hour earlier than usual. Now only table service is allowed, to avoid people queuing at bars to order food and drinks, as is the case in Sweden.
As most of the Western world went into isolation during the spring, Sweden̵
But even the Swedish government now admits that this likely contributed to its high death toll of over 5,800 people in the country of around 10 million. Almost half of these deaths occurred in Swedish nursing homes.
While British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has insisted that comparing the UK’s new measures to those of Sweden is a misstatement, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed on CNN that the Prime Minister has received the architect’s advice. of the Swedish response, Anders Tegnell, just two days before announcing his Swedish-style changes.
“The Prime Minister sifted through a wide variety of scientific advice over the weekend and on Sunday he collected evidence from a number of scientists, which he used to formulate the package of measures he introduced,” the spokesman said. “It was an opportunity for people to give advice freely.”
The debate on herd immunity resurfaces
It is too early to declare victory in Sweden, and officials in the country are also making it clear that they are not out of the woods.
But there was an increase in Sweden last week and Tegnell himself admitted that authorities may now have to implement stricter restrictions locally and recommend wearing masks in public areas, such as shops, for the first time since. virus has arrived – something that has been opposed to doing for months. On Thursday last week, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven called the rise in cases “worrying”.
The Swedish Public Health Agency denied that the country is backing down in its approach, stating in an email to CNN that it has always been quick to advise on the use of masks and impose restrictions in certain situations.
But the recent interest in Sweden has marked a return to the debate on “herd immunity”, the idea that if a certain percentage of your population is immune to a virus, the virus cannot spread easily and will eventually become extinct. Scientists say many viruses can be fought this way when 60-70% of the population is immune, but this is usually achieved with a vaccine.
During the pandemic, much of the talk about immunity has focused on antibodies, but researchers are also looking at T cells, which can fight a virus after infection and play a role in immunity as well.
Immunologist Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, also from the Karolinska Institutet but not working on the study, warned that there was still no clear evidence that what was happening in the test tubes was actually playing out in real life. In other words, no one knows for sure that having T-lymphocyte reactions to the virus in the blood actually means they will help a person infected with the new coronavirus.
This suggests that something else – perhaps past infections of similar viruses – was causing this reaction and perhaps some immunity.
“There are indications that there is something that was present in the population before this virus arrived, and the question is, does it help us?” he told CNN.
He explained that the T cells were like “trained soldiers” who encountered a threat before and are “recalled” when they face the same or similar threat again.
“This is what is happening in the test tubes: you remember the answer and then react against SARS-Cov2, but if they were trained to do so before the virus existed, they must have been trained by something else. That’s why the argument is that it is very likely that we have “cross immunity.” However, does this protect us? We have no idea. “
The second problem with releasing the virus in populations is that, even if you protect the vulnerable, there could be long-term health consequences, Söderberg-Nauclér said.
“We know that at least 10% of people get sick long-term and five to six months after being infected still can’t get out of bed. It can’t work at work, it doesn’t work at school,” Söderberg-Nauclér said.
The X factor
Until there is hard evidence that immunity is indeed building in Sweden, it is impossible to know what’s behind its lower infection rates.
There are social factors that could have an effect.
Swedish cities are less dense than many in the UK and US, for example, but there is no consensus on what role density plays in the spread of Covid-19.
In Sweden, if you have cold symptoms, it is recommended that you stay home for two weeks. Whether you are a banker, a teacher or a bus driver, Sweden’s strong social safety net means that a person is paid in full during this period.
Imposing the Swedish model on the UK, with its diverse cultural systems and practices, is risky, experts warned on Friday.
In a briefing, the group argued that the UK could be more vulnerable to the virus than Sweden if restrictions were kept free. There are generally higher financial pressures in the UK. Residents spend more than their income on housing and unemployment benefits are lower, for example, which can affect the behavior of people at risk.
Air pollution, which studies show may be linked to the severity of infections, is much higher in the UK, the briefing notes. And as concerns are raised about outbreaks in schools, class size could be a factor if social distancing is needed. The average class size in public primary schools in the UK is 27, while in Sweden it is 20.
And because Swedes generally trust the authorities, people have largely followed government guidelines and social behavior has changed voluntarily.
Professor John Edmunds, who advises the government in his Covid response, said on Sky News that the measures announced by Johnson last week were as dangerous as a “truck speeding down a hill”. But he told CNN that there were still some valuable lessons to be learned from Sweden.
“There is a lot to learn from Sweden, from the benefits of adopting a coherent long-term strategy with stable allied messages, to offering support to help people do the right thing,” he said.