Australia’s ‘selfish’ virus approach blasted
One of the world's leading epidemiologists says Australia should copy Sweden's herd immunity strategy because our "selfish" lockdown approach is not working.
Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, told The Australian our government's "self-congratulatory'' approach is misguided and will have negative long-term consequences for the nation.
She said if we let the virus - which 80 to 90 per cent of the population will only get asymptomatically - spread naturally, with strong protections for those most vulnerable, it would protect all Australians from future viral threats and save our economy.
"There is no way lockdown can eliminate the virus … and so it's not at all surprising once you lift lockdown in areas it will flare up again," she said.
"That is what we are seeing in the southern United States, and in Australia. In places where it has already swept through, a proportion of people are immune and you are not seeing it come back.''
By comparison, she said Sweden's social-distancing approach has resulted in greater protections for the entire region because Scandinavia now had high levels of immunity.
Sweden has taken a different path compared to most European countries by keeping much of society open and by recommending social distancing and self-isolation rather than imposing a blanket lockdown.
The idea was that the country would achieve "herd immunity" - a level of the disease where most of the population has been infected, and subsequently developed immunity, which would in turn stop the virus from spreading.
However, its per capita death rate has risen to the fifth-highest in the world despite a sparsely distributed population and a well-regarded hospital system.
With less than half the population of Australia, Sweden has recorded more than 5300 deaths. Australia has recorded 104.
This week, the Swedish prime minister ordered a public inquiry into his government's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Stefan Lofven, the centre-left prime minister, said the time had come for a shift in its approach.
"The crisis has highlighted the shortcomings in our society," he said. "We have thousands of dead. Now the question is how Sweden should change, not if."
The first task of the committee of inquiry, led by a former senior judge, will be to investigate why roughly half of the deaths have occurred in care homes.
The man behind Sweden's strategy, chief epidemiologist Dr Anders Tegnell, is banking on at least 40 per cent of the Swedish population becoming immune to COVID-19.
Experts have said achieving herd immunity would require at least 60 per cent of the population to become immune to the virus.
He told The Financial Times: "In the autumn there will be a second wave.
"Sweden will have a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be quite low. But Finland will have a very low level of immunity. Will Finland have to go into a complete lockdown again?"
Stefan Hanson, an infectious disease expert, was among a group of 22 leading health experts who called for Sweden to adopt a much tougher response to the pandemic.
"The problem is that I don't see any science - there is no scientific background to this strategy," he said on the ABC.
"I woke up in the night because I was thinking, 'This is terrible, people are dying and we are letting the infection spread.'
"From the very start they didn't believe it was going to become an epidemic in Sweden so they didn't take any measures to be prepared for an epidemic. The attitude is taking things too lightly and not to cause panic."
Originally published as Australia's 'selfish' virus approach blasted