Stockholm moving towards collective immunity

17 May 2020
Unlike its European neighbors, the Swedish capital did not introduce quarantine in the hope that the population would become resistant to the disease.  According to Stockholm's statistics, over 30% of the population has already had COVID-19. Of course, there are many critics of such a strategy, but there are increasing voices of international experts that the Swedish model of fighting the epidemic will soon become global. 

Our correspondent Ksenia Pekarskaya has asked the Honored Professor of Karolinska Institute Dr. Johan Giesecke about the "special way" of Sweden.

Sweden has its own approach in the fight against coronavirus. And in your previous interviews you said that there are only two truly effective measures - hand washing and distance. Why them, and what about the stricter restrictions?

Sweden, as you said, basically follows these two measures. You should wash your hands and keep your distance. Only these measures have a truly scientific basis. Other restrictions, such as closure of borders, closure of restaurants, closure of schools, have not been scientifically proven to be effective.

As of students and schools, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has recently concluded that children do not play a major role in the spread of COVID. Do you agree with this fact?

Children of course suffer from COVID, but they are virtually asymptomatic and indeed not considered to be strong transmitters. And there's some evidence of that. For example, according to a report from China, not a single outbreak in an educational institution occurred in China. And if you look at different epidemics, such as influenza, it is clear that the school always becomes one of the centers of the disease. Children spread the flu - they get sick and spread it. That's why COVID was supposed to have outbreaks in schools, too, but we don't see them.

There is no quarantine in Belarus, as well as in Sweden. And our Government believes that there is no point in locking people in their homes, because such measures undermine the physical and mental health of people. Do you agree with that statement?

I absolutely agree. I think sitting at home for months is destructive. It's psychologically difficult and leads to depression. And physically it's hard for a person, who got used to move, walk, breathe fresh air.

Testing in Sweden. How do you keep track of the infected?

We don't keep a track of all the sick people. When the epidemic began in February, we conducted many tests at once, tried to track all the contacts, to identify the positive ones. But when the number of cases became very high, tracking ceased to be very useful. That's why we don't track all the sick people and their contacts right now. We'll start doing it again when we're close to the end of the epidemic. Then the identification of new cases will become important again. But definitely not now. Now the spread is very fast among the population.

As compared to other Scandinavian countries you have a fairly high number of the infected. Does this mean that such a strategy does not work?

You should not now compare Sweden with other neighboring countries, Denmark and Finland  and so on. They were quarantined. But wait for a while, they will catch up, as I said, and you will see how many victims there will be in Denmark or Finland, then we will compare.

Oh, you mean it's gonna happen during wave two?

Yes, there will definitely be the second wave, but it's not just about that. Almost everyone in the world will get coronavirus one way or another, and lockdown will not help, because you will eventually get out of quarantine. And everybody's gonna start getting sick again.

Now we see all the countries that have introduced lockdown coming out of the quarantine - people are allowed to go out on the streets and go back to work. Did this lockdown give them an advantage over the countries that were not quarantined? Like Sweden or Belarus, for example?

The problem with strict lockdown is that you don't treat the population, you just put off the disease away for later, for the future. That is, you will still have the infections from which you kept people during the quarantine, as soon as you abandon the quarantine. We are now watching countries open up, and very soon they will face certain problems. New cases of infection, new numbers, new victims. So we should not even compare the mortality statistics between states, let it take at least a year, then we will calculate. You will see that most of the countries will be in the same position by the number of infections.

But nobody told you how to get out of quarantine, did they?

But nobody knows. And you know what is interesting, when all these measures and restrictions have been taken, no country has ever thought, how they will get out of the quarantine. For example, they closed schools, institutions and borders. But nobody thought how to end it. What happens next? And it's only now that they started thinking about it.

What about collective immunity? Is it possible to talk about its acquisition around the world?

Ultimately, yes. We'll all develop a collective immunity. All respiratory diseases behave in the same way. You can't stop them until you've developed a collective immunity.