Observations of an expat: A bad year

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2020 has been a bad year. It is certainly the worst I can remember and I have been around for 71 of them.

The main cause is, of course, coronavirus or covid-19. It started in Wuhan, China almost exactly 12 months ago, and as the year draws to a close about two million people worldwide have lost their lives to this deadly virus.

Coronavirus has destroyed lives and livelihoods and although vaccines are now being distributed, it will be some time before the world returns to normal—if ever.

The Chinese were initially slow to respond to the threat. Whether their tardiness was in response to a lack of medical knowledge or political considerations is unclear. It was most likely a combination of the two.

The Chinese appeared to have relatively quickly stopped the spread of the virus; helped partly by long years of experience of pandemics and epidemics and partly as a result of a tightly-controlled society. As a general rule, Asians have fared better than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Most scientists have ascribed their relative success to experience of dealing with similar viruses such as SARS (an earlier form of coronavirus) and Avian bird flu.

Those that have fared better than most were countries who could quickly and efficiently shut their borders to the rest of the world. Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia are four examples, although almost everyone is suffering as winter and covid-fatigue set in.

The worst hit were the countries of the West – Europe and North and South America. There the combined emphasis on individual liberties, lack of experience and knowledge, political ineptitude and an emphasis on wealth over health led to the greatest number of deaths.

Two of the best examples were the liberty-loving Anglo-Saxon nations – Britain and America. In the US, the wearing of a face mask offended conservative libertarian instincts and the donning of this simple preventative clothing item became political rather than health issue. President Trump exacerbated the situation by staging mask-less political rallies and White House parties.

Britain’s Boris Johnson nearly died of coronavirus. But his political instincts survived and they told him that there were more votes in opening stores and schools and refusing to mandate mask wearing. As a result, he has shifted responsibility for dealing with the crisis from government to individual shoulders. “Use your common sense,” he urges Britons, while failing to recognise that one person’s common sense could lead him in a completely contradictory direction than that of his neighbour.

The result is that Britain and the US are two of the worst hit countries. On Thursday America hit a new record on the covid front with 3,554 deaths. Britain, with a fifth of the America’s population was 532.

So far the political fallout from coronavirus has been limited. It did contribute to Donald Trump’s defeat in the November elections, but not as much as many thought. An estimated 17 percent of the US electorate said they voted for Joe Biden because his mishandling of the pandemic. In other parts of the world, covid-19 exacerbated existing instabilities rather than created them. Lebanon, Belarus and Thailand were suffering economic and political problems before the pandemic. In most countries there appears to be a grudging acceptance that their leaders are fighting a war against nature and the time for a political reckoning is after victory is declared and the long-term damage is apparent.

A big part of the reckoning will be the political and economic cost of the pandemic. The US, Britain and the EU have borrowed several trillions of dollars to fight the virus, support families and invest in recovery when it comes. But where is the money coming from?

A big chunk is coming from China. At the start of the pandemic China was the world’s largest creditor nation. 150 countries owed it an estimated $2.25 trillion. The US, EU and Britain have added several more trillions of covid debt on top of that. China’s money is not loaned by private financial institutions. It is loaned by state organisations controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. This means political control over the loans, and China has proven itself more than willing to use financial levers to achieve political ends.

Yes, 2020 has been a bad year. It also looks pretty dismal for 2021, 2022, 2023….

Sincere Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and Prosperous New Year despite the gloomy predictions.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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  • The country in Europe hit the hardest by Covid is Belgium, which also saw one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns.

    I came here in search of the liberal discussion forum but then I read:

    “The worst hit were the countries of the West – Europe and North and South America. There the combined emphasis on individual liberties, lack of experience and knowledge, political ineptitude and an emphasis on wealth over health led to the greatest number of deaths.”

    And I wondered if I had stumbled upon the Communist Appreciation Society by mistake.

  • @ Marco “I came here in search of the liberal discussion forum”. As befits the Panto season, “Oh no, you didn’t”.

    Read, digest and learn : BBC News, yesterday :

    Sweden’s king has said his country “failed” to save lives with its relatively relaxed approach to the coronavirus pandemic. King Carl XVI Gustaf made the remarks as part of an annual TV review of the year with the royal family.

    Sweden, which has never imposed a full lockdown, has seen nearly 350,000 cases and more than 7,800 deaths – a lot more than its Scandinavian neighbours.

    Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he agreed with the king’s remarks. “Of course the fact that so many have died can’t be considered as anything other than a failure,” Mr Lofven told reporters.

  • John Marriott 18th Dec '20 - 10:04pm

    The irony is that the country whose questionable hygiene practices probably caused the virus to cross the species barrier in the first place now appears to be booming again. Conspiracy theories are also taking off. What if the virus did accidentally escape from a laboratory? If so, what was it doing there? Perhaps, now that it has allegedly been granted access by China, the WHO might give us a few answers; but I’m not holding my breath.

    There are those who wish to ‘punish’ China for what has happened. Perhaps, with hindsight, we should not have allowed ourselves to become so dependent on her for so many manufactured goods. Cutting off your nose to spite your face might be more difficult than we think. As Tom Arms writes, China has us over a barrel in more ways than one. There is also the not insignificant matter of credit, and her increasing attempts to corner the market in precious metals (vital for the manufacture of the new batteries destined to power our green transport revolution), not forgetting the apparent iron grip it it has on its populace, at least on the mainland. All this makes me wonder whether the phrase “the yellow peril”, that Kaiser Wilhelm coined over a hundred years ago was that wide of the mark.

  • @John Marriott

    I normally enjoy your comments – even if I disagree with them and defend your right to have your say.

    But are you really Donald Trump?

    Taking time from your twitter account now that you have more time on your hands to find new avenues to peddle your conspiracy theories?

    I think we should be told!

    There are a large number of potential viruses that might jump from animal species to humans.

    HIV/AIDS did from primates (most likely) for example and that most likely happened in Africa.

    And then there is the spreading of mad cow disease to humans in this country due to our woeful practices.

    Of course that was just a ruse to export dodgy beef to those nasty continental Europeans!

    We should of course criticise China and encourage them to do better.

    But we should be careful about saying that it came from a lab and spread deliberately which of course it *might* have done but for which there is absolutely zero evidence.

    We should be even more careful to think it is only those unhygienic Chinese that do these things – when from time to time it can and indeed does happen everywhere – including here.

    Oh by the way I do know where the coronavirus came from!

    It came from Martians visiting us – upset at us landing a remote vehicle on their planet.

    No – I have absolutely no evidence for that – but it *might* have done!

    How come it is so deadly to humans?

    I suspect Martians have built up immunity to it. And they probably don’t have noses like us!

    You see it is all beginning to make sense….!!!!

  • David Evans 19th Dec '20 - 9:06am

    John, China is the greatest threat to Liberal Democracy the world has ever faced. Of course, those who think Liberal Democracy is just being an optimist and hoping for good things, like the promoters of well meaning garbage like “The Generous Society” will leave so many young Lib Dems totally unprepared for the task they have to face.

    As I have said on many occasions. Liberal Democracy is hard work – gut crunching hard work over decades if it is to be successful, and not just a flash in the pan. Our well entrenched enemies in the Conservative and labour parties make sure it is.

    To an extent building and safeguarding that fair free and open society has to be like that or it wouldn’t be worthwhile, but the last ten years of almost continuous disaster have made it ever harder. Past generations of Lib Dems knew it was tough and worked tirelessly to build it up and make it stronger – something worth handing on to the next generation. Sadly, the last generation of Lib Dem leaders squandered all that.

    I can only hope the new generation of Lib Dems, are as up for the task of building it up again as earlier generation were.

  • James Fowler 19th Dec '20 - 9:41am

    In spite of repeated and (desperate?) attempts to connect political cultures to virus death rates, there just aren’t any. Surprisingly, even policy linkages are extremely weak. Give up. Overblown predictions from the spring about how dire the UK is are already looking foolish.

    I’ll posit my own correlation: Look at the 50 least affected nations with populations of 1million plus. Then look at the aggregated median age of the those countries. It’s crude, but I suspect it’ll turn out to be the most effective forecast in the long run.

  • @ David Raw

    I had no idea that the King of Sweden was an epidemiologist. Or that Royalty being opinionated about policy was something to be welcomed.

    Has Prince Charles made any interesting pronouncements recently?

  • @Marco

    I don’t believe bureaucrats should tell me what to do etc. without exceptionally good reason. And too often it’s lacking.

    But covid is simply maths.

    To adapt Churchill.

    The worse thing for younger people, non-covid deaths, the economy and civil liberties is an early, strong & long lockdown – except for everything else.

    If we’d lockdowned 2 weeks earlier in the spring it would have cut the covid deaths by a quarter to half.

    Fewer non-covid deaths. And a quicker return to near-normality

    If we’d had a lockdown during half term when Boris said it was a stupid idea & If we’d come out of lockdown more slowly in the autumn, we’d not now have been back into lockdown effectively for 2/3rds of the country with a further lockdown on the cards.

    Our civil liberties & much of the economy would now be restored.

    Just do the maths. A reproduction rate of 1.2-1.4 which it was estimated to be in September sounds relatively benign with low absolute numbers. But you get a doubling every 2-4 reproduction periods – i.e every few weeks.

    Remember scientists were saying in the summer if we weren’t careful we would have a “second wave”. And autumn is difficult as we see with flu & colds normally. Now let’s be clear the virus doesn’t say to itself I’m getting a bored lets infect some more people. No – its our behaviour.

    Clearly we could have avoided a second wave.

    There is only one strategy that works.

    To get to near zero infections. And after that when the “natural” R rate is above 1 to pick off any outbreaks very strongly.

    That’s what Australia has done. There has been an outbreak of 35 (only!!!) infections in a town in New South Wales and it has gone into a week long lockdown & people from NSW are not allowed to go to other states in Australia.

    We needed a very strong & much better trace & isolate scheme & strategy as we came out of lockdown 1. Helping people that had to isolate. Paying people their full wage as sick pay etc.

    There’d have been howls of outrage from businesses and about our civil liberties etc.

    But clearly it would have been a shorter period of pain then we are now experiencing.. Far few deaths – covid and non-covid. A quicker return greater freedom & a better economy.

    Many democratic nations have achieved this as the article outlines. It would have been possible – even in Europe and we shouldn’t let Johnson off the hook as it having been somehow inevitable.

  • But not Japan which had no lockdown or South Korea which had imitated restrictions. There is no real evidence of correlation between the strictness of the measures and the number of fatalities. The rationale for them lies in trusting the CCP and its claims to have eliminated the problem in 3 weeks. Not even the WHO supports lockdowns. We will have them until the last job is gone or until we start telling people the truth which is that the chances of dying of everything increases with age and for people with underlying health conditions. You could be sat at home happily thinking you’ve evaded the virus and thus are surely destined for many more years of “safety”, then die of a heart attack or a stroke or a haemorrhage or any number of things. Let people make their own choices. If you want to isolate and not see other people that is your choice, but let us stop pretending that everyone is at the same level of risk and that governments can or should micro manage our private lives.

  • Hey let’s not get into too much China hating, folks!

    I dislike much about China – not least their treatment of Uighur Muslims. And as a Liberal Democrat I’d prefer them to be a liberal democracy.

    But there are many countries that we trade with that have poor human rights records. Saudia Arabia etc. for example has a poor record on women’s and LGBT rights

    A large number of countries are either by law or in effect one party states.

    But @Tom Arms. money from China should be welcomed as providing the finance that the world and our economy needs. Businesses whether from a one party state or not will take business decisions for um… business reasons. And we don’t reject money from Saudi’s Government backed Sovereign fund.

    @John Marriott

    “Perhaps, with hindsight, we should not have allowed ourselves to become so dependent on [china] for so many manufactured goods….”

    I am not sure that we are “so dependent” anyway or indeed what that means. In 2019 we had £49 billion worth of imports from China and exported £30.9 billion worth of goods and services to them. That was 6.8% of our imports – that means 93% of our imports are NOT from china – and 4.4% of our exports. And the UK GDP is approx £2,000 billion – that’s £1,950 billion that’s not Chinese imports.

    Things such as iphone may be assembled in China but actually the profitable bit of an iphone is not the assembly but the IP in the phone – Apple in the USA but the chips from ARM which has R&D in this country.

    In fact people normally say two contradictory things. We should do more manufacturing like China does and we should have a higher “value added” economy. Manufacturing is not high “added value” (see above) and if we did more of it, we would do less of the higher added value things. Secondly we have to compete with lower labour costs (due to lower living cots) and increasingly robots.

    The trick in the world economy is to do the things that you are good at and let others do the things that they are good at.

    We have high labour costs but we are (in world terms – amazingly!) well educated so it makes sense to work with our brains and not do too much metal bashing!

    It is likely that as China becomes richer, an increasing middle class will ask why they can have a choice of mobile phones but not political parties! And countries are never either as authoritarian or indeed as democratic as they may seem at first glance!

  • John Marriott 19th Dec '20 - 10:52am

    @Michael 1
    Stop trying to dismiss so flippantly what should be a serious argument. The fact is that this particular virus started out in China. Had the authorities acted more quickly at the end of 2019 there is just a chance that things might not have escalated as fast as they did.

    My reference to ‘conspiracy theories’ did not require the kind of OTT responses about Martians you view as showing a kind of purer intellect than the rest of us mortals. If you don’t want to engage in serious debate then go somewhere else. It’s your kind of attitude towards those with whom you disagree that probably led to the balance being tipped in favour of Leave in 2016.

    My concern has always been twofold. Firstly, how do we stop more viruses like COVID crossing the species barrier in future and how to we counteract our dependency, for example on Chinese manufacturing? I could add the apparent buying up of large amounts of land around the world to secure mining rights and, over here, the acquisition of arable farm land by Chinese interests as our being asleep on watch.

    Unlike the former Soviet Union it has been said that China’s ‘world conquest’ is more economically than ideologically driven. I only hope that’s true, although David Evans, with whom I often agree, may have caused valid point. I used to think that Soviet Communism might triumph because I believed the propaganda that it had its people under control. I was wrong then; but am I wrong about China now? The way it’s been dealing with its minorities and the general ‘bread and circuses’ approach of the Xi regime seems to be holding at the moment. It will be interesting to see how any further disturbance in Hong Kong is dealt with and whether it’s sights are refocused on Taiwan.

    Yes, China is a problem that needs addressing and, yes, in a mad way, Trump may have been right. The liberal in me hopes that compromise can win the day, as in most things; but, as I have often said, it takes two to tango. Tonight is apparently the final of ‘Strictly’. There’s not much chance of winning if one of the partners is doing the fox trot and the other jive dancing!

  • @ Marco The usual body swerve when not answering the point that would do Boris Johnson credit.

    You conveniently ignore the equally strong supportive statement from the elected head of the government, Stefan Löfven, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. Mr Lotven heads a government in a parliament elected by Proportional representation.

  • @ Michael 1 “The trick in the world economy is to do the things that you are good at and let others do the things that they are good at.”

    Typical neo-liberal stuff which completely ignores the use of virtual slave labour :

    “Tesco, Mothercare and M&S use factory paying workers 35p …www.theguardian.com › business › jan › tesco-motherc…
    21 Jan 2019 — Bangladeshi firm that made charity Spice Girls T-shirts also works with major UK … Tesco, Mothercare and M&S use factory paying workers 35p an hour … targets and claimed employees were forced to work despite being ill.”

  • Michael 1 19th Dec ’20 – 9:47am……….


  • George Thomas 19th Dec '20 - 12:14pm

    Not sure how many conclusions we can draw while still being in 2020 but it certainly appears the UK acted too late in the year, moved too many sick people into care homes where most vulnerable were living, spent an awful lot boosting the finances of friends and positioning to gain advantage for individual agendas. The worst thing we can do is refuse to learn the lessons but I fear, with elections in devolved nations next year and first year of Brexit, there could be political reason to outwardly blame each other in order to leave the public more confused but probably voting the way they always have done.

  • John Marriott 19th Dec '20 - 2:30pm

    @Michael 1
    I do not quote statistics or amounts of money. What I do is to check the ‘Made in’ information of most things I buy – usually on line. Invariably, if it’s clothing, it’s made these days in Bangladesh or Vietnam and, if it’s electrical – big or small – it comes from China.

    You might argue that, if I am that concerned, I should make sure that I bought British. Well, my wife and I do try and here’s a typical example of what we invariably find. Sometimes, it’s quite frankly impossible, but sometimes the cost is the main factor – and we are hardly on the breadline.

    Recently we were quite attracted to a couple of bedside lamps advertised as not only being good for reading late at night; but also being made in Britain. The ‘introductory offer’ of £90 seemed under the circumstances to be a reasonable price to pay until we realised that the price was for a single lamp. So we went on a well known on line retail site and found two similar lamps at £25 each. When they arrived, they were excellent and were made (you’ve guessed it) IN CHINA. Is there any wonder that Made in China wins nearly every time?

    Now, this may not impress someone like you, who clearly sees things differently. By the way, I bet that those ‘exports’ you cite as heading from the U.K. to China are mainly services and not manufactured goods. Whether you call it “China bashing” or not, I for one think it’s about time that we started to make a few more things in this country and paid a fair price for them to prevent sweat shop wages. Is that too much to ask?

  • Things have got a lot worse…Johnsoln has been dragged, yet again, kicking and whinging into a U-turn; a U-turn that has been obvious for over a week…
    Last week Johnson was urged by opposition parties to re-consider the Christmas ‘madness’ and Starmer raised the issue at PMQ’ (on both occasions their efforts were dismissed by Johnson)..
    “Too little; too late” has been this administrations’ response to every stage of this crisis.

    BTW..My local (Suffolk) still has a majority who believe Johnson is doing a good job..if that is a reflection of our nation’s gullibility then GHU…

  • @John Marriott

    I’m sorry if I offended you by introducing a note of levity but your dislike of China seems so great that it did make me wonder if it was not Trump in disguise (it is not the coronavirus – its the china virus)! And indeed it seems that you are not bothered with the truth and facts – but will stick to your own “alternative facts” – so one does wonder even more….!!!!

    I’d suggest that the main thing to combat viruses and diseases is to try and stick to science and the facts.

    The incredibly good news is that modern science, medicine and epidemiology is very effective. And one of the first successes in epidemiology was fighting cholera in London – indeed John Snow who did it is called the founder of epidemiology – but that was by following the facts!

    The number of deaths from covid has been shocking but compared to “Spanish” flu it has been remarkably well controlled. Mainly we’re NOT beset by diseases originating from animals but diabetes, cancer, obesity, suicide, dementia, heart disease etc. The progress against many of these in the past 70 years has been stunning. I expect that the progress in the next 70 years will be even better – particularly as we move towards personalised medicine.

    But we have *only* done that through trials and the stats from them – not by swallowing untested treatments!

    I outlined several diseases that have transferred from animals – HIV/AIDS probably from people eating infected monkey meat in Africa and the human form of mad cow disease from BSE infected beef – probably from cows being fed scrapie infected sheep meat.

    You ask what can be done what can be done and clearly the world becoming vegetarian or indeed vegan would help a great deal and there are studies that show vegetarians live longer and it would help climate change. But hey I like meat personally – so I’m not holding my breath!

    But if not, following the facts would be a good start. Of course we should criticise China over their “wet markets” but we should be careful that doesn’t blind us to our own faults. Frankly as I outlined major diseases such as HIV/AIDS and human BSE have started elsewhere.

    But perhaps more importantly there is a tendency for those that say it is all a china plot, to wear masks less and take other measure less (and I am NOT saying that is you as you have pointed out the importance of taking these measures in previous comments)

  • John Marriott 19th Dec '20 - 7:03pm

    You can fool the people some of the time; but you can’t fool the people all of the time. On second thoughts….

    I actually watched the exchanges between Starmer and Johnson at PMQs this week. The blighter didn’t answer a single question the former put to him. Why not rechristen it the Boris Johnson Show? On the other hand, nobody ever claimed that the questions had to be answered!

  • Also:

    1. Follow the science It’s uncertain so have a major education initiative both in school and generally on how to understand science.

    2. Abandon ideological positions. I’m strongly against Government restrictions but if you do the maths, there’s no alternative.

    3. Adopt personal responsibility. I sanitise my hands before & after going in to each shop (no-one else does!)

    4. A more responsible media. The Mail & Sun have been full of dubious articles about why we shouldn’t be locking down etc. from “scientists” but from cancer specialists rather than virologists. Listen to the BBC radio series “how they made us doubt everything”. Cigarettes kill half of smokers but for a long time the tobacco industry used scientists who focussed on the half it doesn’t kill!

    On things like the virus there are clearly a number of issues:

    1. Lockdown earlier, longer & harder. Germany did & they’ve had under 30,000 deaths about equal to mild seasonal flu.

    2. Don’t elect politicians like Trump and Johnson whose normal mode is to bluster. It may work in other contexts. But I have news for them – covid doesn’t have ears!

    3. A big public conversation on what measures we will tolerate in combatting viruses like covid next time. South Korea has a fairly authoritarian trace and isolate regime for example – but I wouldn’t go as far as them.

    4. We need to give politicians leeway to act early and get it wrong.

    5. Obviously greater planning and preparation.

    6. More spending on public health and the NHS. There is a lot of good about the NHS but we do have worse outcomes than the rest of Europe because we spend less on health care and we should increase it to the European average.

    7. Get fit and active. I was surprised that life expectancy calculator showed if I was “very active” it boosted my life expectancy by 5 years. (So I’ve been even more of a couch potato since learning that!) but it helps fight things like covid that come along!

    8. We’ve other big(ger) preventable killers. Cancer, diabetes, dementia – but they are significantly helped by getting fit & not being obese So design our cities to promote cycling & we should have ultra quick cancer test turn-arounds.

    9. Remember life’s a fatal disease so use your short time on this earth well! Adopting the Lib Dem health and fitness plan of delivering leaflets has a double benefit – to you and to society! But if not – improve your locality and world!!!!

  • @David Raw

    I, of course, do not condone “slave” labour whether abroad or here as we’ve seen in Leicester.

    And we should support initiatives that improve conditions such as fairtrade chocolate and coffee. And we have had a recent discussion on this here and the work of reporters like Humphrey Hawksley in exposing this is to be applauded.

    The conditions of scraping a living farming land are also very tough & it’s why people go to the cities to work in factories. They did here during the industrial revolution and we are seeing massive economic improvement in these countries – indeed that is the complaint about China – which in turn leads to massive improvement in health care and education and indeed (may be gradually) working conditions.

    @John Marriott

    The point is that we do make a lot of things in this country. But in the design of new medicines including vaccines, new computer chips, computer programs, financial advice, websites, TV programmes, educating foreign students etc. etc. The creation of intellectual property (a very large and very profitable part of the modern economy). Now these tend to be classed as being in the service sector but it is just a definition – they are creation.

    Give people a choice between doing a repetitive task on an assembly line or one of these “service sector” jobs & they’ll mainly opt for the later. They’re better paid as they’re higher skilled. Now we can go back to having more lower skilled, less well paid, boring jobs if you want… !!!

    Countries are often less authoritarian and indeed less democratic than they first seem. And a lot happens “underneath” and of course we only get one view presented to us. As you point out I & many others thought in the late 80s that the Communist regime in Russia would last forever & the next year it was gone!

    I think the CCP will last longer as perhaps unlike Russian Communist party it has delivered economically for its people. But even dictators and monarchs are subject to democratic pressure or they don’t survive and we saw quite a lot of disquiet for example right at the beginning of the covid crisis.

    We’re also blind to how slowly democracy evolved in this country. We had a absolute monarch and an oligarchy up to about 150 years ago & up until then we had our rotten boroughs, corruption and bribery and a very narrow franchise.

    (Apologies for the number of posts – I’ll go now and get on my non-existent exercise bike!)

  • John Marriott 20th Dec '20 - 9:17am

    @Michael 1
    Don’t your lengthy contributions ever provoke a ‘Flood Alert’ warning from the LDV editors? Every time I try to send more than a couple of posts, I seem to get told to wait five hours or more before trying again!

    Finally, what you call ‘levity’ in your reply I call ‘hubris’, engendered by an apparent inability to see any other point of view but your own. I reckon a session on your exercise bike might do you good. Better still, get a proper bike, like me, and get away from your ivory tower a bit more!

  • @ David Raw

    I assume you were referring to Lofven’s statement that masks are being recommended on rush hour transport (I didn’t realise they weren’t already doing that).

    However, Lofven was accompanied by Johan Carlson Director General of the Public Health Agency whose comments were very interesting:

    Carlson went on to restate his problem with masks: they can give a false sense of security, not much protection and discourage social distancing he said. Asked if he now believed there was scientific evidence for them, he said: in hospitals, yes. But outside of them, ‘we don’t think it will have a big effect. It might have a positive effect.’ The problem, he said, is that wearing a face mask is easy; social distancing is hard. If you end up with more people travelling on crowded buses, feeling that the masks protect them, ‘then that’s not the outcome we want.’ (From the Spectator but widely reported).

    As it happens I think Sweden made a blunder in October which made me less enthusiastic about their approach but more of that to follow.

  • @ Michael 1

    Your assertion that an earlier,harder lockdown would have saved more lives is not supported by the experience of Belgium. I don’t know why Belgium have the highest deaths per million in Europe but it isn’t due to a lack of lockdown. In any case those lives could have been lost once restrictions were relaxed.

    Perhaps the real issue countries currently face is the failure to follow the recommendations of the Great Barrington Declaration. If GBD is right then the R rate would now be lower due to higher immunity in the population.

    No country has implemented GBD fully not even Sweden who bizarrely in October decided to lift restrictions (recommendations) on the elderly and vulnerable which seemed premature and could prove to be a mistake as it represented a move away from GBD at a time when it was being widely discussed.

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