The Swedes actually did have Covid-19 models

I had searched in vain to find the Swedish equivalent of the IHME model that Americans love. Surely there had to be an academic in Sweden who wanted to be interviewed by hysterical journalists about the forthcoming doomsday. Yet I couldn’t find anything in English, at least. I thought that maybe Swedes simply didn’t care how many people would get sick, when peak deaths would occur, or how many of their fellow citizens would die. They seemed to be content to let the 15 epidemiologists on the governor’s team be their only soothsayers (example).

As usual, I was dead wrong! “Can we trust Covid modelling? More evidence from Sweden” (The Spectator) shows that Sweden had its PhDs willing to make a few assumptions and then stick them into a simple model. And the ones who came up with the most dramatic forecasts of doom got some media attention. Demand for critical care was going to be “16,000 patients per day” in early May:

Another team upped this to over 20,000:

The government team thought Sweden would have 1,700 patients in the ICU right now. The actual number is around 500.

The doomsayers thought that doom was inevitable even if the Swedes converted to the Church of Shutdown:

And obviously, there is an argument that these models scared us into changing our behaviour and ramping up capacity, and so helped us to avoid a disaster. But they were also clearly based on faulty assumptions that would always result in absurd predictions. We know this, because both models actually assumed that it was already too late, and estimated that ICU capacity would be exceeded by around 10 times even if Sweden switched to strong mitigation.

The need for ICU beds in Sweden will be ‘at least 10-fold greater [than capacity] if strategies approximating the most stringent in Europe are introduced by 10 April’, wrote Gardner et al.

Those strategies were never introduced in Sweden, and yet, additional ICU capacity is 30 percent and the number of patients in intensive care has been declining for two weeks. The newly constructed field hospital in Stockholm, with room for hundreds of patients, has still not received any patients. It will probably never have to open. Here’s a zoomed-in graph of eventual ICU: numbering in the hundreds, not the predicted thousands.

(i.e., the Swedes also built a temp hospital that was never needed!)

I’m kind of curious as to why Americans have placed such faith in the prophecies offered by epidemiologists given that epidemiology is primarily a retrospective activity and there is no historical data on how virus transmission is affected by a Western-style “porous lockdown”. It is as though people in the 1980s had decided that the “complexity” theorists of the Santa Fe Institute, who also could spin a few assumptions into an interesting tale, could be relied upon as reliable oracles. People don’t have the same faith in models of the future stock market. Nobody says “I’m going to hire three PhDs, download R, and become fabulously wealthy starting next week after my team’s model tells me the future prices of stocks.”

5 thoughts on “The Swedes actually did have Covid-19 models

    • We couldn’t bear the lockdown in Germany and went to Sweden during the easter holidays. The autobahn in Germany was absolutely empty. It felt as if we were in the middle of the apocalypse. Then we went on the ferry from Germany to Sweden. I felt sad for the ferry company. The ferry can transport loads of people, cars, trucks and even train wagons but it was nearly empty.
      We expected people in Sweden to behave totally different than the rest of the world. The media made it sound like they didn’t care at all about corona. This was not the case. They just handled it more relaxed.
      They implemented the usual safety measures like clear plastic shields for cashiers or distancing lines to wait behind. If you wanted to wear a mask you could but if you didn’t want to it was also okay. If you were at a reception desk in a hotel you could talk to the personnel through the plastic screen. But if both decided to step one meter to the side to talk face to face they could. Public swimming pools were partly open but restricted the number of people in the pool at the same time. They did this simply by laying out 50 wrist bands for example. If all were taken nobody could go inside. If someone exited and gave back his wristband new people could enter. It was all so casual and relaxed!
      But still the shops, restaurants and hotels were suffering. They had much less customers. Shops had shortened their opening hours or closed completely, hotels started to renovate unused parts.

    • Come on! The UK Prime Minister volunteered himself to be a corona patient! what more do you ask for?

    • Frederico, I know it’s demanding but I would have preferred that the PM followed a more convincing script. Here’s the sequence, as reported:

      April 5 into hospital.
      April 6 into intensive care. Not put on ventilator.
      April 9 out of intensive care.
      April 11 recovery makes “very good progress”.
      April 19 begins resuming work.

      His brush with Death required three days of relatively mild treatment in intensive care. Then he was able to resume at least some parts of his (I hope!) demanding job ten days later. Of course the Corona faithful would not welcome skepticism regarding the PM’s desperate plight. They might consider him a consummate politician, showman and liar but everything about his bout of Coronaplague is absolutely true!

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