Tuesday, 6 October 2020

The coronavirus bait and switch

An interesting sociological study was published today looking at the way norms around the COVID-19 pandemic have changed. The initial justification for lockdowns was to flatten the curve and prevent healthcare systems being overwhelmed. This soon morphed into a policy of trying to prevent anyone dying from this one specific cause of death at all costs.

In scrutinizing the criticisms of Swedish ‘exceptionalism’ (Palm 2020) as expressed by health professionals, scientists, and mass media representatives, we detect a significant divergence between officially proclaimed norms (which we call ‘norm texts’) and the underlying norm concepts that have emerged in the course of the crisis.

Whereas the official main goal of the pandemic mitigation interventions has been to keep the health system from getting overburdened, we observe the emergence of an implicit norm actually focused on the prevention of deaths related to a coronavirus infection. We point out that this norm is thereby not about protecting lives per se, but merely about preventing people from dying from or with a coronavirus infection. Hence, we argue that this implicit norm is asymmetric and thus not tenable, because it implies that a death from the novel coronavirus is more important than a death from another infection, such as influenza.

The authors look at the way Sweden's 'exceptional' approach was reported in the media. 

Flattening the curve’ of coronavirus infections to levels below the maximum capacities and thus avoiding an overburdening of the national health systems can thus be seen as the stated major goal of the anti-pandemic strategies – the official ‘norm text’ – throughout Europe.

However, in the case of criticisms of Sweden, it is apparent that this official ‘norm text’ is incongruent with the factual norms at stake for many European news media, health professionals, and scientists. In fact, from the outset, Sweden has been successful in pursuing precisely this strategy: At no time has the Swedish health system been overburdened (Löfgren 2020; Ringstrom 2020; Savage 2020b). At no time has Sweden been comparable to Northern Italy. Rather, Sweden has always contained the spread of the coronavirus to such an extent that the numbers of COVID-19 cases have always been below the maximum capacity of its health system – exactly as shown in Figure 1 (Kavaliunas et al. 2020). Therefore, if we measure the Swedish strategy against the official ‘norm text’, then we find that Sweden has actually been very successful in complying with the ostensible norm.

The current 'strategy' - I use the word advisedly - in Britain and many other countries (but not Sweden) is to continue laying waste to the economy until the population can be inoculated with a vaccine that is not yet available. It is insane.

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