Denmark

“We Have to Compare Sweden to Its Neighbours” Isn’t a Convincing Argument

In a recent post on Lockdown Sceptics, I argued that the case for lockdown basically collapsed in May of 2020, when Sweden’s epidemic began to retreat. Sweden was the only major Western country that didn’t lockdown in 2020, yet it saw age-adjusted excess mortality up to week 51 of just 1.7% – below the European average.

A common reply is that, although Sweden did better than the European average, it did worse than its neighbours. Here its neighbours are taken to be the other Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Looking at age-adjusted excess mortality, it’s true that the other Nordics did better than Sweden. All four saw negative excess mortality up to week 51.

Does this mean lockdown sceptics are wrong to cite Sweden as evidence that the benefits of lockdowns are vastly overstated? No, I don’t believe it does.

First, the economist Daniel Klein and his colleagues have identified 15 different factors that may account for the higher death toll in Sweden as compared to the other Nordics. These include the greater number of frail elderly people alive at the start of 2020 (the ‘dry tinder’ effect); the larger immigrant population; and the lack of adequate protection for care home residents in the early weeks of the pandemic. 

Second, as the researcher Philippe Lemoine has pointed out, the epidemic was already more advanced in Sweden by the time most European countries introduced lockdowns and social distancing. The other Nordic countries therefore had a head start in responding to the deadly first wave. This is particularly important because, when the first wave struck, the best ways of treating COVID-19 were not yet well understood.

I would add that, with the exception of Denmark (which saw a moderate second wave), the other Nordics are small, geographically peripheral countries for which a containment strategy was actually workable. As I’ve noted in Quillette, all the Western countries that have managed to keep their COVID-19 death rates low (Norway, Cyprus, Australia, etc.) benefited from pre-existing geographical advantages. And all imposed strict border controls at the start (something the UK Government’s scientific advisers cautioned against).

Third, as the legal scholar Paul Yowell has argued, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are similar to the Nordics in terms of climate and population density, and once you include them in the comparison, Sweden no longer stands out. Lithuania actually had higher age-adjusted excess mortality than Sweden last year, despite imposing a strict winter lockdown.

Finally, as Yowell also points out, the ratio of Sweden’s COVID-19 death rate to Denmark’s isn’t that much higher than the ratio of Denmark’s to Finland’s. And this is despite the fact that Denmark has taken a more restrictive approach than Finland. One could therefore take the comparison between those two countries as evidence against the efficacy of lockdowns.

What’s more, this exercise could be repeated with other pairs or trios. For example, despite taking a slightly less restrictive approach than Spain and Italy, France has reported fewer deaths from COVID-19 (as well as lower excess mortality). Of course, these kinds of comparisons don’t tell us very much. But that’s the point. We shouldn’t only compare a country to its immediate neighbours.

And when researchers have analysed European countries and US states in a systematic way, they haven’t found evidence that lockdowns substantially reduce deaths from COVID-19.

Danish Vaccine Passport App “Will Cause Domino Effect” Across Europe

The Danish developers of a new Covid passport app say that its technology will cause a “domino effect” across Europe. The company is currently in talks with a number of European countries, possibly including the UK. Sky News has the story.

The company behind a Danish Covid passport app says its rollout will cause a “domino effect” across Europe.

Netcompany is developing an app which will be ready for use in Denmark by May.

It will show whether a person has been vaccinated against Covid as well as recent test results.

The firm’s Chief Executive Andre Rogaczewski said international interest in the technology is “very high”.

“We are talking to at least a dozen of countries, and most of them in Europe right now,” he told Sky News.

The UK could be among them, although no details have been confirmed. …

Denmark was the first country in Europe to confirm it will use digital passports.

Mr Rogaczewski said: “I think that’s going to start some sort of domino effect. We will see more countries in Europe following suit.”

There have been suggestions that the technology could be incorporated into the existing NHS Covid app.

Trials of vaccine passports are expected to begin in the UK next month at venues such as theatres and stadiums, despite growing opposition to the idea from MPs.

Sky News’ report is worth reading in full.

Models Fail to Predict the British Variant’s Decline

One reason that go-slow BoJo is taking his sweet time over lifting lockdown is to allow himself enough time (frankly, more than enough) to see the impact of each change before making the next.

A Covid surge was, naturally, predicted by Government scientific advisers when schools went back in March. Has that happened? Not even a ripple. In fact, since mass testing in schools began in early March the positive rate has hit a floor of 0.4% (presumably a lot to do with the false positive rate). Are any of these advisers embarrassed by their failed predictions that threatened the education of our children? If so, we’ve not heard.

To be fair, in February, SPI-M member Mark Woolhouse (one of the more heretical ones) told MPs he wasn’t expecting a surge as schools returned, since schools don’t drive the epidemic. “One of the stated reasons for keeping schools closed was to avoid some surge in cases when they open – that’s never happened across western Europe,” he said. Which begs the question: why were schools closed to “avoid some surge in cases when they open” if this has never happened? And why now are children subject to wearing masks all day and constant testing and having to self-isolate whenever they (or a classmate) gets a false positive? Is it all “just in case”?

Perhaps more significant, though, is that this no-show of a surge occurred despite the UK being dominated by the British Covid variant, as the graph below shows, which the Government says is more deadly and more contagious.

SARS-CoV-2 variant prevalence in UK – Kent variant in red (from CoVariant)

New ONS data published on Friday (see graph below) shows that new daily infections in the winter peaked around December 26th – 10 days before the lockdown on January 5th that we were told needed to be “tough enough” to contain the new mutant variant.

Denmark Remains “Uncertain” About Saftey of AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine

Denmark has extended its suspension of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for three weeks, while officials continue to investigate reports that it causes blood clots. The country initially halted its use of the vaccine on March 11th, along with a host of other countries which have since decided to resume their AZ jab rollouts following the European Medicines Agency’s announcement that it is “safe and effective”. Sky News has the story.

On March 11th, Denmark joined Norway, Austria, Italy and Iceland to suspend the use of the vaccine after reports of blood blots.

Originally the rollout of the coronavirus jab was paused for 14 days as a precautionary measure but Danish officials said on March 25th that this has been extended by three weeks as they conducted their own investigations. …

“Right now, we believe that our basis for making a final decision on the further use of the Covid vaccine by AstraZeneca is too uncertain,” Soeren Brostroem, head of the Danish Health Agency, said.

He said: “Many studies have been launched, but we do not yet have any conclusions. That is why we have decided to extend the break.”

Hesitancy remains due to suspicion that the AZ jab may be linked to “very rare blood clot cases”.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority took the decision to stop using the jab after reports that a 60 year-old woman died with blood clots in several parts of her body a week after she received the vaccine.

A second person died in Demark after getting the jab, but health authorities said that they have no evidence the vaccine was responsible for either death.

The decision “was made on the basis of presumed side effects”, Tanja Erichsen of the Danish Medicines Agency said.

“I would like to emphasise that I am not talking about ordinary blood clots,” Ms Erichsen said.

“It is not about blood clots in the arms, legs and lungs.

“It can’t be ruled out that there is a connection between the vaccine and the very rare blood clot cases.”

A recent survey of 1,053 Danes suggests that, regardless of the result of these further tests, concerns about the vaccine are now widespread in Denmark. Far more Danes would decline to get an AstraZeneca Covid vaccine than would refuse to get a Covid jab altogether, showing that hesitancy is not simply the product of general vaccine scepticism. Reuters reports:

One in three Danes would decline to get a Covid shot using AstraZeneca’s vaccine, local media outlets TV 2 and Politiken reported late on Wednesday, citing a recent survey. …

The survey, conducted by Megafon among 1,053 persons, showed 33% of Danes would decline to get a shot with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. However, only 7% would decline regardless of which Covid vaccine they were offered.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Lancet Paper Flagging Up Risk of Reinfection is Garbage

We’re publishing an original piece today by Mike Hearn, the former Google software engineer who is the author of this site’s most read piece. (He used to contribute under the name Sue Denim, but has since come out.) It’s a review of a recent paper in the Lancet purporting to show that 20% of Danes infected in Denmark’s first wave became reinfected in the second wave. As Mike reveals, this conclusion was based on assuming the false positive rate of the PCR test is much lower than the researchers had any reason to assume. Here are the first three paragraphs:

A recent paper in the Lancet claims that one in five people might not get immunity from being infected with COVID. The study is invalid. Although these sorts of problems have been seen before, this is a good opportunity to quickly recall why COVID science is in such dire straits.

The research has a straightforward goal: follow a population of Danish people who tested positive in Denmark’s first wave, and re-test them during the second wave to see if they became infected a second time. Denmark has a large free PCR testing programme so there is plenty of data to analyse. Out of 11,068 who tested positive in the first wave, 72 also tested positive during the second wave. This fact is used to advocate for vaccination of people who’ve already had COVID.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that false positives can cause apparent reinfection even when no such thing has happened. The paper doesn’t mention this possibility until page 7, where the entire topic is dismissed in a single sentence: “Some misclassifications by PCR tests might have occurred; however, the test used is believed to be highly accurate, with a sensitivity of 97·1% and specificity of 99·98%.” My curiosity was piqued by this figure because, as I’ve written about previously, at least as of June last year nobody knew what the false positive rate of COVID PCR testing is. The problem is circular logic: COVID is defined as having a positive test, therefore by definition it has no false positives, even though we know this cannot be true.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The New York Times reports on a new study showing that eight months after infection most people who have recovered from coronavirus still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.

Review of Paper Claiming 20% of Infected Are Vulnerable to Reinfection

by Mike Hearn

A recent paper in the Lancet claims that one in five people might not get immunity from being infected with COVID. The study is invalid. Although these sorts of problems have been seen before, this is a good opportunity to quickly recall why COVID science is in such dire straits.

The research has a straightforward goal: follow a population of Danish people who tested positive in Denmark’s first wave, and re-test them during the second wave to see if they became infected a second time. Denmark has a large free PCR testing programme so there is plenty of data to analyse. Out of 11,068 who tested positive in the first wave, 72 also tested positive during the second wave. This fact is used to advocate for vaccination of people who’ve already had COVID.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that false positives can cause apparent reinfection even when no such thing has happened. The paper doesn’t mention this possibility until page 7, where the entire topic is dismissed in a single sentence: “Some misclassifications by PCR tests might have occurred; however, the test used is believed to be highly accurate, with a sensitivity of 97·1% and specificity of 99·98%.” My curiosity was piqued by this figure because, as I’ve written about previously, at least as of June last year nobody knew what the false positive rate of COVID PCR testing is. The problem is circular logic: COVID is defined as having a positive test, therefore by definition it has no false positives, even though we know this cannot be true.

Is it possible this problem has been fixed? Sadly we’re talking about public health, so the answer is no. The citation is deceptive. The cited paper is from August and is a modelling paper. When read carefully we discover two surprising facts: firstly, the conclusion says clearly that “A high risk of false-positives should be considered… This may have consequences for, e.g., containment strategies and research”. In other words, the opposite of what the Lancet study tries to imply it says. And secondly, the 99.98% figure is totally made up:

[W]e set specificity to 99% – the lower level suggested by the Danish Health Authority. However, this figure may be an underestimate. Cross-reactivity to other endemic respiratory viruses has not been found under reference conditions. Contamination etc. are minimised by strict procedures in clinical practice. We therefore also repeated the analyses using a higher specificity of 99.98%…

In other words, although the government tells them to expect a 1% FP rate, they decided they felt more optimistic by nearly two orders of magnitude. No justification for the 99.98% specificity figure is provided beyond their faith in “strict procedures”. It’s pulled out of thin air and used as an alternative model scenario. To get the number of “reinfections” in the Lancet study only requires an FP rate of ~0.65% so actually, if the Danish government’s advice is correct, we should expect all the reinfections to be false positives. Certainly, no useful evidence is provided that it’s not the case.

I think most of us have stopped being surprised by this sort of thing. Papers with severe problems that literally anyone can find in five minutes keep being published by major journals. Worse, this particular issue is so basic it’s hard to see how it could be a mistake. Although it’s painful to reach, the only plausible conclusion is that scientists know they are misleading people and are doing it deliberately out of a misguided belief that it’s for the greater good.

Finally, please remember that a paper being invalid does not automatically prove the inverse claim is true i.e., the takeaway here is not “being infected always grants immunity”, even though that seems rather likely, but only that this paper doesn’t prove the opposite.

Mike Hearn is a former Google software engineer. You can read his blog at Plan 99.

Denmark Suspends Use of AstraZeneca Vaccine Over Blood Clot Fears

Denmark has halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine following reports of negative side effects relating to blood clots. The Telegraph has the story.

Denmark has temporarily suspended AstraZeneca Covid vaccine shots after reports of cases of blood clots forming, including one in Denmark, Danish authorities said on Thursday.

They did not say how many reports of blood clots there had been, but Austria has stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.

They said six other European countries had halted the use of a vaccine batch from AstraZeneca.

“Both we and the Danish Medicines Agency have to respond to reports of possible serious side-effects, both from Denmark and other European countries,” the director of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said in a statement.

The vaccine would be suspended for 14 days, the health agency said. It did not give details of the Danish blood clot patient.

AstraZeneca has defended its shot, highlighting that there have been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine”, but is fully supportive of Denmark’s investigation.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: There have been no registered cases of blood clots related to AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine in Spain, according to the country’s Health Secretary, which will continue to use the shots.

Stop Press 2: Norway and Iceland have also stopped giving the AstraZeneca jab and a number of other countries, including Italy, have temporarily stopped using two different batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after reports in Italy of a “serious adverse event” linked to one batch and the death in Austria related to another batch. The Telegraph has more.

Stop Press 3: Romanian authorities have temporarily stopped vaccinating people with one batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as an “extreme precaution” while deaths in Italy are investigated, but are continuing to use other doses from the company. Channel News Asia has more.