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.”