Only about 1.7 percent of Danes had Covid-19 antibodies back in April

“Estimation of SARS-CoV-2 infection fatality rate by real-time antibody screening of blood donors” (medRxiv; thanks, Colin!) describes testing donated blood in Denmark (nearly 10,000 samples) and finding that only 1.7 percent were positive for coronavirus antibodies. The blood had been donated April 6-17.

Does this mean that, now that the Danes are emerging from their bunkers, they will essentially start all over with a coronaplague? If 98 percent of the population has no immunity to plague, how is that different than if 100 percent of the population has no immunity (presumably, the situation back in December/January)? If it wasn’t safe for people to mix back in mid-March, now that 2 percent of the population is presumed immune, it is suddenly safe?

What do we make of this seemingly crazy low number for a purportedly exponentially growing disease that had at least two months to run free in Denmark? Here are some possibilities:

  • Except in certain high-density cities, coronaplague is not very contagious, nowhere near as ferocious as we were told
  • A lot of people simply aren’t susceptible to coronaplague, just as a lot of people won’t catch a cold that is going around, and, having never been truly infected, don’t develop antibodies
  • The antibody tests that we have are not reliable for determining if someone has previously been infected with coronaplague

[Another aspect of the paper that I suspect won’t interest anyone:

Using available data on fatalities and population numbers a combined IFR in patients younger than 70 is estimated at 82 per 100,000 (CI: 59-154) infections.

In other words, a person under 70 who actually does get infected with this evil virus has a 0.082% of dying (about the same as the annual risk of death from commuting via motorcycle 4,000 miles per year). Given the current popular mood, however, I think any number larger than 0% will be a sufficient justification for cowering in a bunker.]

Some other studies in the most plague-ridden areas have found 20-30 percent of the adult population with antibodies. That too, however, suggests to me that a lot of people are somehow naturally immune.

Readers: Could Denmark have truly missed this first wave of plague?

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Coronanews from the Netherlands

Schools are reopening in Holland today (Reuters), but not in a Swedish business-as-usual manner. Children will be separated by walls of plastic.

Shops and businesses in the Netherlands never closed and my Dutch friend said that the general population hadn’t wanted schools to close, but “the teachers are in a union and they knew they’d get paid even if they didn’t work, so of course they immediately refused to work.”

What was his take on the continued lockdown in the U.S.? “All of the rights that Americans fought and died in multiple wars to defend, they gave up in one governor’s press conference.”

Where does Holland fit into the death-rate-so-far competition? About the same as Sweden, which continued to run schools and restaurants, and therefore less than half the death rate of my home state of Massachusetts (but more than the U.S. overall):

How about a moving average of recent deaths?

What about other businesses? From Bloomberg:

Restaurants, bars and movie theaters will be allowed reopen starting June 1, with restrictions to comply with the “1.5 meter society” which will remain in place for the foreseeable future, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters at a televised briefing in The Hague on Wednesday. Prostitution, which is legal in the Netherlands, is allowed restart on Sept. 1 according to the current time line.

(Due to the border closure, workers in the Dutch sex industry cannot simply spend the summer in the U.S. and return home with a developing annuity (see “American Child Support Profits Without an American Child”))

Given that the Dutch continued to meet in shops, in public squares, and at work, how is it possible that the coronavirus hasn’t already reached nearly everyone who is susceptible? Presumably they are expecting a second wave if they reopen restaurants tomorrow, but why is June 1 any better?

Related:

  • May 2: “Wear a mask if you want to, says Dutch prime minister”: ‘Everyone can do what they like, this is a free country,’ he said. ‘But there are risks and if you use them incorrectly, they can actually help spread the virus.’
  • starting June 1: “Since public transport will probably become busier around 1 June, it will be more difficult to stay 1.5 metres apart. It will also be impossible to carry out a preliminary risk check. That is why everyone travelling on public transport will be required to wear a non-medical face mask to protect others.”
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Young German’s perspective on coronaplague and shutdown

Text messages received by a friend from his family’s former au pair, now back in her native Germany, age 26:

  • People are slowly having enough of this bullshit
  • There are hundreds of people down by the Main river and the police doesn’t say anything to them anymore even though they are supposed to hand out fines
  • I still can’t believe that they escalated the situation to the point it is now
  • It’s basically impossible to get a fucking job right now: Restaurants and all these small businesses struggle to survive
  • And for what?
  • We saved 25000 people 80+
  • So they can die of something else within the next 6 months?
  • not even half ICU beds in Germany are actually used
  • it is such a crock of shit [I suspect she learned this idiom from the host dad!]
  • if someone has a car accident and dies and is corona positive they count a corona death
  • They count people like this so that they get at least some concerning numbers
  • But not even with that questionable way of counting numbers are too concerning compared to the measures taken

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Why aren’t a ton of Swedes on their way to being dead?

Sweden is geographically close to and tightly connected via commerce and tourism with some of the world’s coronavirus hotspots, e.g., Italy, Spain, and Germany. Yet the government in Sweden hasn’t closed the schools or done much of anything else about coronavirus. Why don’t the WHO COVID-2019 situation reports show a dramatic upward trend for Sweden compared to its European neighbors?

“As the rest of Europe lives under lockdown, Sweden keeps calm and carries on” (Guardian):

While every other country in Europe has been ordered into ever more stringent coronavirus lockdown, Sweden has remained the exception. Schools, kindergartens, bars, restaurants, ski resorts, sports clubs, hairdressers: all remain open, weeks after everything closed down in next door Denmark and Norway.

Universities have been closed, and on Friday, the government tightened the ban on events to limit them to no more than 50 people. But if you develop symptoms, you can still go back to work or school just two days after you feel better. If a parent starts showing symptoms, they’re allowed to continue to send their children to school. [!]

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, believes it is counterproductive to bring in the tightest restrictions at too early a stage. “As long as the Swedish epidemic development stays at this level,” he tells the Observer, “I don’t see any big reason to take measures that you can only keep up for a very limited amount of time.”

His team at the Public Health Agency of Sweden is critical of the Imperial College paper that warned this month that 250,000 people in the UK would die if the government failed to introduce more draconian measures. A week later Johnson ordered the police to implement a partial lockdown to combat the virus, telling people they “must stay at home”.

“We have had a fair amount of people looking at it and they are sceptical,” says Tegnell. “They think Imperial chose a number of variables that gave a prognosis that was quite pessimistic, and that you could just as easily have chosen other variables that gave you another outcome. It’s not a peer-reviewed paper. It might be right, but it might also be terribly wrong. In Sweden, we are a bit surprised that it’s had such an impact.”

Is it that the Swedes have so much hospital capacity they don’t care how quickly the patients come in? No need to flatten the curve (or remind everyone you know on Facebook to flatten the curve) if an infinite supply of universal health care is available. The World Bank says that Sweden has 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000 population, less than the U.S. (2.9), Italy (3.4), Germany (8.3), or Japan (13.4). Has Sweden been hoarding ventilators? Exactly the opposite: “Sweden’s Getinge to deliver 500 ventilators to Italy as demand rockets”.

If you believe that hot/humid weather helps keep the virus in check that can’t be a factor for Sweden (high of 39F tomorrow in Stockholm). Here they are wearing jackets in summer (from my Sweden photos):

Maybe they’ve just given up? From the above article:

Tegnell even questions whether stopping the progress of the virus is desirable. “We are just trying to slow it, because this disease will never go away. If you manage, like South Korea, to get rid of it, even they say that they count on it coming back. Stopping it might even be negative, because you would have a pent-up possible spread of the disease, and then once you open the gates, there is a possibility that there would be an even worse outcome.”

While Tegnell understands that he will be blamed if Sweden ends up in a similar situation to that of Italy, he refuses to be panicked. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if it ended up about the same way for all of us, irrespective of what we’re doing,” he says. “I’m not so sure that what we’re doing is affecting the spread very much. But we will see.”

Why haven’t we seen the effects already? If a shutdown works, Sweden should have a higher infection rate per capita than Denmark, right, since Denmark is shut down. But WHO reports show Sweden with a lower infection rate (Sweden has twice the population of Denmark).

Why don’t we read about overwhelmed hospitals in Sweden? With exponential growth, we’ve had enough time to see a difference between Germany and Denmark (schools shut afternoon of March 13) and Sweden, no?

(Maybe two weeks isn’t enough if Denmark and Sweden are like Massachusetts and don’t test people until they’ve been admitted to the hospital and are at death’s door. And then the tests don’t get reported out to the public until after they’ve come back from the lab (can take 2-4 additional days). So Sweden could have been experiencing far more infections during the last two weeks, but it wouldn’t show up in the data just yet. Though you’d think we’d see hysterical articles about the hospitals filling up, as we have been getting out of New York.)

Related:

  • From 2018: “Denmark plans to house the country’s most unwelcome foreigners in a most unwelcoming place: a tiny, hard-to-reach island that now holds the laboratories, stables and crematory of a center for researching contagious animal diseases. As if to make the message clearer, one of the two ferries that serve the island is called the Virus.” (nytimes)
  • family law in Sweden (a divorce following a coronavirus quarantine is unlikely to be profitable; alimony is unavailable and child support revenue is capped at about $2,500 per year)
  • getting to the same place, but perhaps from a less-obviously-informed-by-epidemiology perspective, “Brazil’s Bolsonaro makes life-or-death coronavirus gamble” (Associated Press): “Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has staked out the most deliberately dismissive position of any major world leader, calling the pandemic a momentary, minor problem and saying strong measures to contain it are unnecessary. “The Brazilian needs to be studied. He doesn’t catch anything. You see a guy jumping into sewage, diving in, right? Nothing happens to him. I think a lot of people were already infected in Brazil, weeks or months ago, and they already have the antibodies that help it not proliferate,” Bolsonaro said.
  • my photos from Sweden (back in the film days)

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European perspective on Jeffrey Epstein, Brexit, Immigration, and Donald Trump

I spent three weeks with 471 fellow “explorers” through the Northwest Passage. Most were German, Scandinavian, or from the UK. Only 22 of us were American. Out of 150 staff and crew, only 1 was American (most were from the Philippines). Every day the ship provided us with a printed summary of news, organized by country. Thus, it turned out to be a great way to get the European perspective on current events.

[What was the racial composition of the passengers? The same as in American communities where residents hang Black Lives Matters signs and say that their top priority is racial diversity: 90+ percent white with the remainder being Asian.]

News about Jeffrey Epstein bewildered the Scandinavians and Germans. “If she wants to work as a real prostitute paying taxes she needs to wait until she is 18,” said a Dane. “But there is nothing illegal about a 15-year-old having a sugar daddy buying her whatever she wants. A 15- or 16-year-old is considered an adult in sexual matters.” Germans noted that the age of consent in their country was 14 and that prostitution, though not a career to aspire to, was legal.

A retired English lawyer doubted that Epstein had ever abused anyone: “the women kept going back.” She was scornful of the actresses who’d had sex with Harvey Weinstein and of the #MeToo movement in general. “I was the only female lawyer in my firm and then the only partner,” she noted. “I could have claimed harassment or discrimination dozens of times.” (Proof that criminal defense lawyers are right in wanting older women on juries in what used to be called “date rape” cases?)

The UK passengers were drawn mostly from the London/Southeast area and many had worked in multinational enterprises. Thus, the majority had voted to Remain, but there were quite a few Leavers. Nobody seemed to have any affection for the EU as an institution: “I voted to Remain,” said one woman, “but now that I’ve seen how the EU has treated us, if there were another election today I would vote to Leave.” The business experts noted that the EU had begun as a trade and customs union, but had morphed into an attempt to forge a single political entity. They considered that effort a failure, but the Remainers wanted to try to reform the EU from within (since reforming big centralized government has been so successful everywhere else?).

Just as with Americans, claiming to dislike Donald Trump is a mark of sophistication and intelligence. Hardly anyone wanted to admit that there was anything to like about our dictator. However, the folks who’d done business internationally said that Trump was doing exactly the right thing with respect to China and talked about how they’d been unable to get access to the market there without opening a factory and transferring technology. Others said that they thought Trump’s trade policies would be bad for Europe, but were in Americans’ best interest.

The Europeans were at least as hostile to low-skill migration as Donald Trump. They wanted a wall on Europe’s southern border. They wanted their welfare state, already stingier than ours (see Hartz IV, for example), further curtailed so that Europe would stop being a magnet for those who are helpless in a modern economy.

The Europeans who said that they didn’t like Trump also shared his fondness for low tax rates as a way of fostering economic growth. A Swedish business executive whose company has a U.S. division said that he thought U.S. taxes were currently higher than Sweden’s. He pointed out that Sweden has no estate (death) tax. What about their higher headline personal income tax rate? “Nobody pays that,” he said. “If you’re a corporate executive you will find a way to turn the income into a capital gain, taxed at 30 percent.” A Scandinavian who was generally in favor of big government earned most of his income through an Estonian corporation. As Estonia is tax free, he won’t owe any taxes on this income until he needs to get the money out and spend it, which could be 50 years from now.

It was interesting to be with people who don’t share our assumptions, but now I’m back in the land of GroupThink. From a Toyota at our local public library on Saturday:

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Greenlanders and Trump

After Trump was elected, a friend said “If Trump proposes any cuts to the military, Democrats will demand a 600-ship navy.” In that same vein, while I was traveling around Greenland in preparation for a Northwest Passage cruise, my Facebook friends were defending continued white European colonialism in Greenland following Trump’s offer to purchase the island from Denmark.

What does Greenland look like? Here’s Sisimiut, one of the largest cities, population 5,500 (10 percent of the island’s total population):

Danish colonial rule was legitimized (at least by the Klaboona) in the 1930s. History from the museum in Ilulissat (posited source of the glacier that sunk Titanic):

What did Greenland residents think of the Trump offer? I asked everyone whom I met during August 2019 visits to Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat, Sisimiut, and Itilleq. There was a huge amount of enthusiasm for continued Danish rule… among those who were actually Danish, e.g., an art museum director who was born in Copenhagen to Danish parents and emigrated to Greenland roughly 25 years ago. There was zero enthusiasm for continued Danish rule among those whose heritage was “Greenlandic” (Eskimo/Inuit). People of mixed genetic heritage had a mixed opinion.

One Greenlandic gal noted “the Danes never thought about doing anything for us until Trump made his offer.” The Danes living in Denmark with whom I spoke considered the offer in “What can Greenland do for us?” terms, e.g., what were the value of the minerals that could potentially be mined. They did not mention any consideration of whether Greenlandic folks would be better or worse off under the cruel boot of the Trumpenfuhrer.

Thus, based on my sample of roughly 40 individuals, native Greenlandic folks have the same affection for European colonialism that Native Americans do for European-American immigrants.

My notes from watching short documentaries on Air Greenland (nice airline) during the inbound flight:

People want to fight the Danish and be independent. Yet young people move to Denmark. Young people leave smaller Greenland towns for Nuuk. It is a huge waste of time for Greenland kids to learn Danish; they could be a lot more integrated with the world economy if they learned English instead.

Acknowledgement that they are financially dependent on Denmark, but expressed hope that they can be self-reliant as in the past. Why aren’t the fishing rights lucrative enough for independence ? Plenty of cod back in Viking times.

Why do they have alcohol? Much coverage in the tourist promotional videos of the damage done by alcoholism. Young woman beat up a number of other girls at a bar. Had no memory and no reason to have attacked any of them. Sentenced to 70 hours community service. Industrial cheap alcohol in a place where the sun doesn’t rise for 6 months?

Some photos from the in-flight magazine and seatback video:

Note that helicopters are included within the category of “aeroplanes.” In case you were considering signing up for a dogsled ride, “Travelling with dogs is a sensual experience that penetrates travellers – and remains there”. Mira Kleist, a young diplomat, gives advice to teenagers that might not make sense in the digital age: “Just do what you want to, people soon forget.” (But Google, Facebook, and Archive.org remember, as anyone whose Harvard acceptance has been rescinded can attest.)

Related:

  • “Greenland’s exit warning to Britain” (Politico), regarding the three-year process (1982-1985) required for an island of 56,000 population to leave the European Union. (one fun thing to do on the cruise, whenever the English passengers started to talk about Brexit, was to ask Norwegians at the table if Norway would like to join the EU, a proposal that was greeted with howls of derisive laughter)
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Asking museum visitors for feedback… and getting it

The (awesome) Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark holds five restored 1000-year-old ships:

The museum also features seaworthy replicas on which visitors can travel in the summer.

One fun part of the museum was the feedback wall:

Dressing up is popular:

There is some passion for American culture:

The Vikings had only two gender IDs:

“Send Them Back” stickers in the adjacent parking lot:

I wonder what would happen if American museums allowed this kind of open feedback whiteboard!

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ARKEN: Copenhagen’s contemporary art museum

Some pictures from a summer visit to ARKEN, a waterfront concrete museum that opened in 1996.

The entrance…

The regular collection is heavy on Damien Hirst…

More exciting… Benedikte Bjerre built an airport conveyor system out of IKEA bed parts (she says “the work addresses our dreams and hopes of the good capitalist life and social mobility across global borders”):

The museum was doing a big show of work by Australian Patricia Piccinini:

Does your dog like to jump up and share the bed?

Can you explain this traffic accident to Hertz?

Is it fair to say that not all concepts for Little Mermaid sequels are successful?

Miscellaneous:

Many of the artists claim to be concerned about “marginalised individuals and groups,” but how many of those folks will ever purchase or view a contemporary artwork?

Exit through the gift shop…

And then fold your big Danish frame into a tiny Danish car…

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Danish kids absent from school for a month

The two youngest passengers on our Northwest Passage cruise were 13 and 15, public school students in Denmark. I asked the parents what kind of bureaucratic obstacles there had been to taking the kids out of school for a month. “None,” replied the dad. “The teacher said that they’ll probably learn more on this trip than in school.” Hurtigruten’s promise of working Internet on the Roald Amundsen did not materialize due to (a) limited satellite coverage, and (b) inability of the ship’s antennae to point low enough. Had the disconnected children experienced trouble in completing their assignments? “They weren’t given any,” said the father. “The curriculum in Denmark is standardized at the federal level, which can be great, but for children who are stronger than average academically it means they have no trouble catching up if they miss a month.”

[I also learned from this family that Denmark has instituted a busing system for children of immigrants. If a born-in-Denmark child does not speak Danish well, he or she is bused away from the neighborhood school, which presumably will also contain a bunch of children who speak a non-Danish language, to a school full of Danes. Where are these folks from? “Syria, after four straight years as the biggest generator of asylum-seekers in Denmark, lost its crown to Eritrea last year, but this year it is back on course to generate the highest number. … Uffe Østergaard, a Danish university academic specialising in identity history who works for both Aarhus University and Copenhagen Business School, has suggested in a Politiken opinion piece that Europe should build a wall around its perimeter… ” (CPH Post)]

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