Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Follow-up: COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?

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Since my recent text on COVID-19 reactions, the stream with we-are-shutting-this-and-that-down, stock-exchanges-are-crashing, etc., has continued, now (if not earlier!) reaching ridiculous proportions. France, apparently, is trying to legally force people to remain in their homes absent non-postponable errands—a truly extreme measure. Denmark is blocking Swedes from entry. Etc. While the threat must be taken seriously, the vast majority of the damage until now has been caused by the reactions to the epidemic and by the fear of the epidemic—not the epidemic, it self. While the number of infected can grow much larger than today, I note that we are not dealing with the Spanish Flu or the Bubonic Plague, which posed a truly great risk of death to the infected. Moreover, again, that limiting the infected proportion of the population might well be doable with less extreme means.

We are rapidly approaching a point where even a worst-case scenario of the actual epidemic might cause less damage than fear and counter-measures.

To boot, recommended actions can have unexpected negative effects, be pointless, or see contradictory advice from other sources. For instance, today, I read on SVT’s video-text* that the Swedish police is urging schools to remain open for as long as possible, because the effect** on the police’s work would be too large otherwise. For instance, yesterday, someone noted that closing schools would be ineffective if the same students just met privately outside of school instead, and that students must also be kept at home.***

*The pages are short and not archived, and I have been unable to find a more detailed and linkable source on short notice. (This in part, because Swedish online news-papers are moving more and more towards pay-walling; in part, likely, because the video-text tends to react faster with news.)

**What effect is not specified, but I speculate that they fear having the cities overrun with restless children and teenagers. This especially, as the same page quotes or paraphrases the education minister (Anna Ekström): “Om skolor stängs måste barnomsorgen för dem med samhällskritiska jobb säkras” (“If schools are closed, the childcare for those with critical-for-society jobs must be secured.”) Both, incidentally, supports the school-skeptics claim that the role of school is too much “child storage” and too little education.

***I only partially agree: The claim would hold, if we truly had the same students meeting (and in similar or worse interactions as in school), but this is unlikely to be the case. Groups are likely to be smaller, interactions more restricted to certain “cliques”, and many will prefer to remain at home and/or physically alone anyway. (I certainly would have, at that age, and that was long before social media and smart phones moved social interactions away from personal meetings.) Nevertheless, this type of critical thinking is vital when dealing with far-going measures—and it seems to be missing among journalists and politicians.

Excursion on resistance:
An unfortunate side-effect of trying to avoid infections is that the overall human resistance to infections drops or fails to increase over time, making us less prepared for subsequent epidemics. This both regarding the training of the immune system of the individual (for sufficiently similar infections) and regarding evolutionary pressure. From this point of view, the current attempts to reduce exposure might well backfire in the long-term (assuming that future epidemics are handled similarly).

Excursion on “epidemic” vs. “pandemic”:
My choice of “epidemic” over “pandemic” in my first text was unconscious. However, I consciously stick with “epidemic” in the current text, because it is the more general word and much of what is said would apply equally without a global spread (e.g. assuming the same risks and reactions within an individual country).

Written by michaeleriksson

March 17, 2020 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. […] I really had not intended to write more than the one text on COVID-19; certainly, not to go beyond the second text. […]


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