Coronavirus – Norwegian researchers support Tegnell

Sweden and Norway have taken very different measures against the corona pandemic, but the results have been more similar than one might think, writes Swedish Aftonbladet.

And that is Norwegian research the newspaper bases its article on.

Researchers from, among others, Oslo University Hospital and the University of Oslo have published a study with the following conclusion:

“We do not find much of the great difference between Norway and Sweden in the first phase of the pandemic when we compare all causes of death in a five-year period. It can be questioned whether there are great gains to be expected with Norway’s strict measures in relation to Sweden’s less severe during the pandemic. “

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– For those affected, it is always tragic, but for the correct assessment of measures, we must put things in perspective. We do what we do in Norway, but it comes at a cost. We must dare to look at what the real threat picture is, says Michael Bretthauer, researcher at Oslo University Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of Oslo.

Bretthauer is one of the researchers behind the Norwegian study.

While Norway introduced the strictest measures since World War II to stem the spread of infection, the measures in Sweden have most often been limited to general advice on hand hygiene and distance, the researchers point out.

SCIENTIST: Professor Michael Bretthauer at the University of Oslo. Photo: Niklas R. Lello / UiO
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They believe that the Norwegian measures have major negative impacts on the economy, jobs, society and the individual.

The researchers also point out that there are concerns that people with other diseases have not seen a doctor or hospital in time, tens of thousands of canceled doctor’s appointments, operations and other treatment.

The research article has been submitted to a leading medical journal, but the report, which the researchers have now published, is a so-called preprint that has not yet been peer-reviewed.

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Difficult calculation

In Norway, around 300 people have died of covid-19 so far during the pandemic, in Sweden over 6000.

Given that Sweden has twice as many inhabitants, there are about 10 times more dead Swedes than Norwegians as a result of coronavirus disease.

But the calculation is not that simple, according to the researchers.

In the study, they compared total mortality in Sweden and Norway over the past five years.

To understand the effects of the pandemic in the two countries, with such different measures against the pandemic, the researchers calculated mortality in each week between July 2015 and July 2020.

They compared the pandemic period from March 2020 with the corresponding weeks in the four preceding years, 2015-2019.

In Norway, researchers found that mortality was somewhat lower during the pandemic compared with previous years.

The researchers believe that the increase in total mortality during the pandemic in Sweden is not insignificant due to the fact that the country experienced lower mortality than usual the year before the pandemic. Why this is so, they do not know, but it may be related to a mild flu season in Sweden in 2018/2019.

Supports Tegnell

Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has pointed out the same explanation for the high death rates.

– Yes, based on our findings, it may look as if Sweden has done better than we have assumed so far. Sweden’s strategy has not led to a large increase in total mortality in the population, says Michael Bretthauer.

NORWEGIAN SUPPORT: Norwegian researchers agree with Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell that much of the covid-19 excess mortality in Sweden can be explained by unusually low mortality last year. Photo: AFP / NTB
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In pure numbers, the researchers have found that 3796 more people died in Sweden by the end of July in the pandemic year 2019/2020 compared to the average for 2015-2019.

Last year, 2756 fewer people died in Sweden compared with the average for 2015-2019.

Furthermore, the researchers found that mortality during the pandemic in Sweden has not increased compared to the years 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18.

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Mortality shift

Researchers can also see that mortality in Sweden is lower than expected after the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

– In addition, the figures show that this mortality shift in Sweden has only occurred among those over 70 years, especially among those over 80 years. For people under the age of 70, the total death rate has been lower during the pandemic, also in Sweden, says Bretthauer.

To Aftonbladet he says the following:

– Actually, last year was the exceptional year in Sweden, with unusually low mortality. Many who would have died last year were given an extra year. When a new disease came, it took many who were already in overtime, so to speak.

To Dagbladet, the professor of medicine makes it clear that covid-19 is serious and can have a tragic outcome for those affected.

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The real difference

Low death rates in Sweden last year also do not explain the full difference in covid-19 mortality between Norway and Sweden.

– However, the difference in mortality is half of what most people think. In reality, we can say that 2,500 more people have died in Sweden than in Norway in the first part of the pandemic, says Bretthauer.

Jonas Björk, professor of epidemiology at Lund University, is critical of the hypothesis that low influenza death in Sweden before the pandemic may explain the higher covid-19 mortality.

– We take a closer look at this in an ongoing study of different regions in Europe. Then we see no clear connection between how high the mortality rate was at the beginning of the year, and how hard the pandemic hit. If there is such an effect of previous flu, it is probably extremely weak, says Jonas Björk to Aftonbladet.

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