Owed an explanation

Day two of voluntary quarantine, and I’m starting to wonder what the plan is.

I preface this by saying that Sweden’s number of official cases is past 1,000, but that number has stagnated for reasons outlined a few paragraphs below. We are already in mitigation phase, but I’m not seeing the mitigation.

While the World Health Organisation has released advice to all countries in the world to “Test, test, test.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was reported by CNBC as having said the following during a virtual press conference today (Monday, March 16th):

“For any country, one of the most important things is the political commitment at the highest level,” Tedros said. “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded; they should know where the cases are.” 

But Sweden, since March 11th, altered their testing policies. 1177.se, Sweden’s official healthcare resource, states the following:

“Covid-19 är en ny sjukdom i Sverige och sätten att förhindra eller fördröja den behöver förändras när allt fler blir sjuka. Tidigare undersöktes alla med symtom som har varit i länder eller områden med många sjuka. Nu undersöks du bara om du behöver vård på sjukhus, eller ibland om du arbetar i vård eller omsorg.”

In English (my translation):

“Covid-19 is a new illness in Sweden, and the ways to prevent or delay it need to change as more people become sick. Previously, all people were tested who had symptoms and who had been in countries or areas with a high infection rate. Now you will only be tested if you need hospital care, or sometimes if you work in healthcare or related care.”

Related care seems to include services like aged care – obviously a good thing, though it says “sometimes”, which seems vague.

Basically, the number has barely risen from where it was three days ago, when it was around 775 cases. If other graphs are correct, it could be around 1,800 or something by now, and that’s just what would have been tested – which means the true number is likely (or at least very possible) around 18,000. So it’s a few, anyway!

The website for the Public Health Agency for Sweden states that they do not believe the illness is transmitted before symptoms show. They say they are basing this advice off the fact that the 2003 SARS outbreak was only transmitted after symptoms started showing, and also because – they say – there are no confirmed cases where transmission has occurred before symptoms showed.

However, this article, written by Tina Hesman Saey, Senior Writer on molecular biology at sciencenews.org wrote that a study in Germany shows that people are contagious – even most contagious leading up to and during the very early stages or symptoms.

This article in Business Insider, written by Aria Bendix, Senior Reporter on urban and environmental science, said “A recent study found that nearly half of patients in Singapore and 62% of patients in Tianjin, China transmitted the virus when they were pre-symptomatic.”

This does not seem to back up the Public Health Agency’s claim.

I’m way too tired to write about more ways in which the Swedish approach is confusing me. I, like many other people, have spent the day working from home, going for walks in the sunshine for attempted refreshment (trying not to furtively look at my phone but failing), entertaining my little toddler, and punctuating all of it by researching and scrolling and stressing the heck out of my poor, old, already pretty anxiety prone mind.

But here’s a question I have:

1. If we were closing schools and preschools which reported confirmed virus cases before things started getting bad, and we were, 

2. and we’re not closing schools otherwise, which we’re not,

3. and children are still legally obliged to go to school, which they are,

4. and nobody who isn’t in a direct risk group can be tested, which they can’t,

how will we know when we have a school full of little vectors who may not be sick but be transmitting to others?

Because the answer I can’t help but come up with is… we won’t.

We don’t have Elsie in preschool, because our work and home situation is really very fortunate, and the same one that allows us to be quarantining right now, so we haven’t had to make any hard decisions, but I can well understand calls to close the schools – even in “regular” coronavirus circumstances (adequate testing being a main one). So I can most certainly understand parents’ concerns under in the current climate. What about kids who have been treated for cancer in the past? Kids who are immunosuppressed? Kids with asthma? Kids with family members who have any of the above? Kids with grandparents?

For the “business largely as usual” approach to work, everybody has pointed out that older people and other vulnerable members of our society need to be protected, but visits to mormor and morfar are still occurring in many Swedish households. A common opinion is still that we “need to support the restaurants, because we want them to be there when this is all over.” 

I’d rather my grandparents – heck, my parents are at risk if the health system is overloaded enough – to be there when this is all over. Thankfully, my parents live in the taking-it-slightly-more-seriously land down under, but I’ve married into a new bunch of people that I like quite a lot as well.

Thankfully, many, many people are staying at home. I guess they’ve found a couple of graphs on the internet and are doing their part to flatten the curve. I hope so.

But if the Swedish authorities want the population to survive this pandemic with their mental health in tact, it might be a good time to start addressing people’s concerns with more than just “We need to do the right things at the right time.”

Because that’s the one thing that absolutely nobody is arguing them on.

What are the things? When is the time?

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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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