Swedish strat­egy ‘had same re­sult as ours’

Pro­fes­sor ad­mits rad­i­cal Scan­di­na­vian pol­icy worked as well as Bri­tish pol­icy of shut­ting down

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Henry Bod­kin HEALTH COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The sci­en­tist be­hind lock­down in the UK has ad­mit­ted Swe­den achieved roughly the same sup­pres­sion of coro­n­avirus with­out dra­co­nian re­stric­tions. Neil Fer­gu­son said that, de­spite re­ly­ing on “quite sim­i­lar sci­ence”, the Swedish au­thor­i­ties had achieved vir­tu­ally the same re­sults with­out a full lock­down. Swe­den adopted a softer ap­proach than else­where in Europe, in­tro­duc­ing vol­un­tary so­cial dis­tanc­ing but keep­ing restau­rants, bars and schools open.

THE sci­en­tist be­hind lock­down in the UK has ad­mit­ted Swe­den achieved roughly the same sup­pres­sion of coro­n­avirus with­out dra­co­nian re­stric­tions.

Neil Fer­gu­son, who be­came known as “Pro­fes­sor Lock­down” af­ter con­vinc­ing Boris John­son to rad­i­cally cur­tail ev­ery­day free­doms, ac­knowl­edged that, de­spite re­ly­ing on “quite sim­i­lar sci­ence”, the Swedish au­thor­i­ties had achieved vir­tu­ally the same re­sults with­out a full lock­down.

Swe­den adopted a softer ap­proach than else­where in Europe, in­tro­duc­ing vol­un­tary so­cial dis­tanc­ing but keep­ing restau­rants, bars and schools open and record­ing 4,350 deaths by the end of May, com­pared with 39,045 in Eng­land.

Data re­leased in May also sug­gested Swe­den had so far avoided a heavy blow to its econ­omy, its GDP con­tract­ing just 0.3 per cent in the first three months of the year, com­pared with 3.8 per cent across the eu­ro­zone. Bri­tain’s econ­omy con­tracted 2 per cent.

Giv­ing ev­i­dence to the House of Lords sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy com­mit­tee yes­ter­day, Prof Fer­gu­son said he had the “great­est re­spect” for Swedish sci­en­tists. “They came to a dif­fer­ent pol­icy con­clu­sion based re­ally on quite sim­i­lar sci­ence,” he said. “I don’t agree with it but sci­en­tif­i­cally they’re not far from sci­en­tists in any part of the world.”

Swe­den’s R value was thought to be at 1, mean­ing on av­er­age ev­ery case would cause one other in­fec­tion. In the UK, it was thought to be be­tween .75 and 1, mean­ing the virus out­break should be re­treat­ing.

Prof Fer­gu­son re­signed from the main Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Group for Emer­gen­cies com­mit­tee last month af­ter The Daily Tele­graph re­vealed he broke so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules to meet his mar­ried lover.

Virus ar­rived ear­lier than ex­pected

Bri­tain’s high death toll was due in part to the fact Covid-19 en­tered the UK ear­lier than pre­dicted, and from un­ex­pected sources, Prof Fer­gu­son said, with anal­y­sis re­veal­ing most trans­mis­sions here orig­i­nated in Spain and Italy.

“We had been wor­ry­ing about in­fec­tion from China, other Asian coun­tries and maybe the US,” he said, “but it’s clear there were hun­dreds if not thou­sands of in­fected in­di­vid­u­als com­ing into the coun­try from [Spain and Italy]. It ex­plains some of the ac­cel­er­a­tion in pol­icy then, but also ex­plains to some ex­tent why mor­tal­ity fig­ures ended up be­ing higher than we hoped.”

Lock­downs are crude

Lock­down was a blunt in­stru­ment and should be re­placed when pos­si­ble with more pre­cise mea­sures that cause less eco­nomic dam­age, he said.

His com­ments could be taken as sup­port for reim­pos­ing con­trols in the event of a resur­gence, a prospect raised by min­is­ters. He said: “Lock­downs are very crude poli­cies and what we’d like to do is have much more tar­geted con­trolled trans­mis­sion.”

De­spite this, he said the UK lock­down had been 10 per cent more ef­fec­tive than pre­dicted in re­duc­ing con­tacts. He also re­vealed the is­sue of lock­down fa­tigue was not some­thing his team had taken into ac­count.

“Some had that view on Sage but it wasn’t one I shared or other mod­ellers looked at,” he said. “I think the dif­fer­ence was, we as­sumed there would be a 75 per cent drop in con­tacts out­side the home. It turned out to be more like 85, so we’re not talk­ing about dif­fer­ences which make a qual­i­ta­tive change.”

Trans­mis­sion flat un­til Septem­ber

The trans­mis­sion rate of the virus should stay “rel­a­tively flat” un­til Septem­ber, but af­ter that it is “un­clear”.

Ap­pear­ing to sup­port the grad­ual eas­ing of re­stric­tions, Prof Fer­gu­son said: “I sus­pect lev­els of trans­mis­sion and num­bers of cases will re­main rel­a­tively flat be­tween now and Septem­ber, short of very big pol­icy changes or be­hav­iour changes in the com­mu­nity.”

He added he could be less cer­tain about what may hap­pen in Septem­ber, when res­pi­ra­tory viruses tended to trans­mit slightly bet­ter.

In the same ses­sion he said that full lock­down had re­duced trans­mis­sion by roughly 80 per cent, but that to main­tain con­trol that could not slip be­low 65 per cent.

“This is a highly trans­mis­si­ble pathogen. We have a lit­tle bit of wig­gle room, so it will be a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as to how we al­low so­ci­ety to re­sume while main­tain­ing con­trol of trans­mis­sion.”

Care home plight ‘shock­ing’

Prof Fer­gu­son said he was “shocked” at the fail­ure to pro­tect care home res­i­dents. He said: “If we had done a bet­ter job of re­duc­ing trans­mis­sion in closed in­sti­tu­tions like hos­pi­tals and care homes, we would have a lit­tle more wig­gle room. The in­fec­tions spilt back into the com­mu­nity, more com­monly from the peo­ple who work in those in­sti­tu­tions.”

Prof Matt Keel­ing, from the Univer­sity of War­wick, said the mod­el­ling com­mu­nity had “dropped the ball” when it came to un­der­stand­ing the im­pact on care homes and hos­pi­tals.

Con­tact trac­ing

The Gov­ern­ment’s new track-and-trace pro­gramme was “not a panacea” that on its own would solve the cri­sis, Prof Fer­gu­son said, pre­dict­ing that it would “re­duce the R value by 0.25 at the most” – but that de­pended on how quickly con­tacts were iden­ti­fied.

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