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Sweden study is blow for hopes herd immunity will beat coronavirus

Only 15% of Stockholm residents caught coronavirus despite no Swedish lockdown in blow for hopes that herd immunity will combat the disease

  • Only 15% of Stockholm residents contracted coronavirus despite no lockdown
  • Study is a blow for hopes herd immunity will develop to help combat the disease
  • Swedish leaders had been hoping 60% of people would achieve immunity  

Herd immunity does not work as a Covid strategy, research suggests.

Sweden, which never imposed a national lockdown, claimed herd immunity would protect its population.

This tactic would have meant so many people contracting and becoming resistant to Covid that it would no longer spread.

But analysis by University College London suggests the nation is way off hitting that goal.

Sweden has a death rate of 564 people per million population, which is still better than the UK’s 707 per million. Although both epidemics have followed a similar trajectory

Only 15 per cent of the population in Stockholm, the capital, have been infected so far, according to antibody testing.

Some 60 per cent would be needed to acquire herd immunity.

Sweden, meanwhile has seen infection rates and deaths far higher than its Scandinavian neighbours.

As of June 23, it had recorded 5,161 deaths – 511 per million of the Swedish population.

Soaking up the Swedish summer sun – but the lack of lockdown hasn’t achieved herd immunity

That is about ten times higher than those in Norway, which had 45 deaths per million and Finland, which had 59 deaths per million.

And five times higher than Denmark, which had 104 deaths per million.

But, notably, not as many deaths as in the UK, which at the same point had seen 637 deaths per million.

The British Government came under fire in March when its scientific advisors revealed they were also exploring the idea of herd immunity.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific advisor, said on March 13: ‘Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it.’

Covid jobs bloodbath in UK as employment sees biggest fall in a DECADE after lockdown 

The number of people on company payrolls in the UK has fallen by 730,000 since lockdown –  as employment saw the biggest drop in a decade.

Dire figures have started to show the huge impact of coronavirus on the labour market, with a wave of jobs being axed.

In the three months to June, the number in work decreased by 220,000 – the largest quarterly slump since 2009. Total hours worked slumped by a fifth over the quarter to the lowest level since 1994.

Meanwhile, the numbers on payroll tumbled another 114,000 in July, as the claimant count – which includes some people who are in work – increased again to reach 2.7million. 

Underlining the misery, store chain Debenhams has announced that it is cutting 2,500 roles. 

However, analysts warned the grim news is the tip of the iceberg, as the full effects of lockdown have so far been masked by the government’s massive support schemes. 

The latest figures today showed that 9.6million jobs have been furloughed, with the Treasury paying out £33.8billion in subisidies. 

Many people appear to have chosen to stay economically ‘inactive’ rather than hunt for work – meaning they remain outside the headline unemployment figures.

Figures released tomorrow are due to confirm that the UK has formally entered a recession – with a second consecutive quarter of GDP contracting. The Bank of England expects the fall to be as much as 21 per cent.

Boris Johnson said everyone knew the country was in for a ‘bumpy’ ride, but insisted the government was ready to make ‘colossal’ investments in the future.  

The researchers, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said Sweden’s strategy has been to rely on people’s ‘individual responsibility’ to curtail the spread of the disease.

This follows the Swedish sociocultural concept of ‘folkvett’ – the common sense of the people as a collective.

Lead author Professor David Goldsmith said: ‘It is clear that not only are the rates of viral infection, hospitalisation and mortality (per million population) much higher than those seen in neighbouring Scandinavian countries, but also that the time-course of the epidemic in Sweden is different, with continued persistence of higher infection and mortality well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland and Norway.’ He added that in these countries, rapid lock-down measures brought in from early March seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge and thus the malign consequences of Covid-19 on the country as a whole.

Professor Goldsmith added: ‘We in the UK would do well to remember we nearly trod the same path as Sweden, as herd immunity was often discussed here in early March.

‘Right now, despite strict – but tardy – lock-down in the UK, and the more measured Swedish response, both countries have seen high seven-day averaged Covid-19 death rates compared to other Scandinavian and European countries.’ Interestingly infection rates in London and Stockholm have been similar.

Antibody tests suggest 17 per cent of those in London have been infected – similar to rates in the Swedish capital.

So while a lack of lockdown measures in Sweden seem to be linked to higher infections and deaths than their Scandinavian neighbours, locking down in the UK has not protected this country from a similar fate.

Experts last night said the concept of herd immunity as a protective strategy had been flawed from the start.

Dr Simon Clarke of the University of Reading, said: ‘Natural herd immunity, generated by letting Covid-19 sweep through a population, may have been an appealing notion to some because of the lack of a lockdown or curbs on people’s freedoms, but it was nothing more than an idea which lacked supporting data.

‘The Swedish experience of attempting to achieve this, compared to other Nordic countries responses, resulted in much higher numbers of infections and deaths per capita, in addition to a prolonged outbreak.

‘These findings should prove a salutary warning, that appealing concepts and theories require supporting data when people’s lives are at stake and should not be used to fit pre-conceived narratives.

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