CDC chief last year: You know whose lockdown worked really well to limit deaths? China's

Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP

This is making the rounds on conservative Twitter today, 13 months after Walensky said it. I’m not sure why, but there’s never a bad time to highlight the fact that the current head of America’s pandemic response agency was willing to take ChiCom COVID statistics at face value.

She said that on October 20, 2020 according to this site, which transcribed the interview. Proof that Walensky is a fan of hardcore weld-people’s-apartment-doors-shut lockdowns? Well, no. She also said this in the same interview:

Dr. Rochelle Walensky: I believe that the lockdown worked in terms of, “flattening the curve.” We needed to do that in March. I mean, you saw the scenes of what was happening in our own hospitals, in New York hospitals that was not sustainable. I would like to think that we could get national leadership that would endorse a plan where people are wearing masks, where people are distancing, where we can have leadership that will allow for all of these things to occur and therefore can protect ourselves. I believe actually that the schools should be open preferentially over some of the things that are open right now. And I think we could safely get in a space to do that without having a full lockdown, because I understand the toll that, that takes.

Walensky wasn’t in the “lockdowns forever” camp, or even in the “close schools” camp, as far back as last fall. But she was, it seems, willing to believe that China’s death toll was what Beijing claimed it was. Which, uh, no:

Her reference to Sweden in the clip is noteworthy since Sweden was a hot topic among lockdown proponents and opponents all last year. Famously, they were the one western country to eschew lockdowns, encouraging people (especially older people) to self-isolate while keeping businesses and elementary schools open. How are they faring now? Amazingly well, actually:

Walensky noted at the time that Sweden’s rate of deaths per capita was similar to America’s. That’s no longer true. The U.S. stands at 238 deaths per 100,000 people while Sweden stands at 148. In fact, Sweden’s daily cases are currently lower than those in Norway and Finland, its Scandinavian neighbors. Each of those two countries has about half of Sweden’s population:

So did Sweden’s “no lockdowns” strategy “win” the pandemic? Not exactly. Remember that the Swedes did finally order restrictions on gatherings last winter, after cases began to explode. Shortly before that, the country’s state epidemiologist dismissed the idea of pursuing herd immunity to ease COVID as “futile and immoral.” The current shape of Sweden’s case curve suggests that they *have* at last achieved a degree of herd immunity after avoiding restrictions for most of the pandemic, but it came at a steep price. Their death toll of 15,094 is around seven times higher than the combined death toll of 2,265 in Norway and Finland, the closest comparison points culturally. Finland has suffered just 23 deaths per 100,000 residents while Norway has seen a mere 18 per 100K.

The country’s decision not to lock down early is now being investigated internally. The man responsible for it has taken to arguing, essentially, that the country *did* lock down — informally.

Tegnell’s strategy in the early stage of the crisis is facing growing criticism in Sweden. The official commission investigating the country’s response has criticised the slow reaction at the start of 2020 and noted that Sweden let the virus spread faster than other Nordic countries. But the commission will not pronounce on the wisdom of the no formal lockdown strategy until next year.

Mattias Karlsson, former leader of the populist Sweden Democrats, told the FT that Tegnell had been “completely wrong” on several issues and that the judgment on him would be “very harsh”. He added: “Especially in the early phase of the pandemic there were a lot of things we could have done that would have made a difference.”

But Tegnell himself is unapologetic. He stressed that “Sweden did close down enormously” despite the lack of a formal lockdown. It had empty streets for much of 2020 and almost no cases of flu and other respiratory diseases as people worked from home and avoided travel and social contact, he said.

The Americans who have lionized Sweden’s pandemic response didn’t do so because they wanted everyone to stay home voluntarily rather than by state diktat. They wanted people not to stay home. We’ll see how Sweden fares this winter, as that’ll be the acid test of whether they’ve reached herd immunity or not.

By the way, all three Scandinavian countries have higher vaccination rates than the U.S. That’s another detail that tends to get left out by Sweden’s populist “reopen everything” supporters in the U.S.: They have nearly 69 percent of their population fully immunized despite the degree of natural immunity conferred by their costly anti-lockdown strategy. I’ll leave you with this.

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