Hat-tip to Countries That Didn’t Lock-down

Several countries abstained from lock-downs because they thought little of the virus and better of their people, or understood the long-term implications.

May 17, 2021

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

lock-down There is something to be said for how a jurisdiction handles a crisis. Do they use it as an excuse to oppress or do they manage according to where there is need?  This is certainly something to consider when deciding where to go as a nomad or expatriate for sure!

States within the US behaved like chicken little, as did Canada and the UK. They didn’t have to be passive, but they didn’t need to be aggressive either. If they focused on dissemination of accurate and timely information rather than propagandized headlines, everyone would be much better off today.

Heavy-handedness is as irrational a response as fearfully carrying on about a virus before fully understanding the facts behind it. Throughout this global frenzy, however, a few rational heads could be found, and it’s time to give them the credit they deserve.

First up, Sweden. They received a lot of criticism from the lock-down crowds, but the fact is, they put human dignity before fear. Looking back, that is what was truly stolen from everyone.

A human being without their rights, is a human being without dignity. Look at any horrible regime past or present, and look at the subjects. Meekly going about their lives, heads down in fear, trying not to upset anything or anyone. Repeatedly saying, “Yes, yes, of course,” just to get the government agents off their backs.

To put dignity above fear is to honor human rights. Sweden has something called “folkvett”. Directly translated it means “manners”, which is in every country. But the more complete definition would be a mix of good manners, morality, and common sense; a sort of human decency. I assume this is a general cultural expectation of all Swedes in Sweden.

Sweden did not lock down. There were a few exceptions in that they shut the schools down for a brief period, and did limit bar capacity to 50 for a bit. But no mask mandates, no one stopped working, it really was business as usual.

Their big misstep was in how they handled the nursing homes. Which they admitted to, but has less to do with their approach to lock-downs and more to do with logistics. I wrote something similar addressing the difference between Florida and New York and how they handled their nursing homes.

Florida reopened in September 2020, but remained vigilant about ensuring the safety of their significant elderly population (greater than that of New York’s). New York saw 5,000 more nursing home deaths despite their strict lock-downs due to horrible logistics.

But if you look at Sweden vs New York, both mishandling their nursing home situation to some degree, here’s what you get:

For every 1.04 million cases, Sweden saw 14,275 deaths (1.4%), while New York saw 26,189 deaths (2.5%) with strict lock-downs. That’s 1.8 times the deaths per case rate of Sweden. New York saw double the cases as Sweden, but also has almost double the population, so the case rate is about the same:

Sweden population: 10.23M
Sweden cases: 1.04M
Sweden deaths: 14,275

New York population: 19.45M
New York cases: 2.08M
New York deaths: 52,377

Sweden can hold its head high knowing they refused to forego their economy and the dignity of its people under the fearful pressures of the world.

Next up, Japan. Japan is a bit unique. First, it is an archipelago. With no direct land access to the country itself, as a country it can easily isolate. In the same way New Zealand did.

The second is their history and cultural roots. Until 1946, Shinto was the state religion. A religion that deified their emperor, but also was more focused on behavior over belief. Long after Japan codified a separation of church and state, people still culturally abide by the Shinto ways.

Shinto had something in common with Sweden’s folkvett: what constitutes human decency. Japanese culture focuses on each person understanding their place in society and their obligation to it. Japan calls it “mindo”. Japan believes in the high cultural quality of its people and their standard of living, and it attributes its success through the pandemic to exactly that.

Shinto also teaches purification. The ethic toward cleanliness in Japan to this day is clear. Even before COVID-19 reared its head, Japanese people wore masks if they were coughing, and took great pride in keeping the country clean.

Japan population: 126.3M
Japan cases: 680K
Japan deaths: 11,424

They offered no mandates, no lock-downs, and relied on Japanese people being their best selves. And they saw fewer cases and deaths than Sweden. To be fair, they did have contact tracing protocols, and shut down their borders for a bit. They reopened last summer, however, and even started inviting tourists.

Then, there is Mexico. Mexico decided early on it would not take a heavy-handed approach to the pandemic. This was a long-term decision based on unforgettable history in both Mexico and Latin America in general.

Seventy years of authoritarian rule in Mexico served as a deterrent to any oppressive or severe measures. That, along with watching as the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and El Salvador arrested hundreds just for leaving their homes, had their president avoiding government interventions beyond that of information and education.

They tried to carry out mask enforcement within businesses by appealing to businesses directly. They did shut down schools for a bit.

Two factors at play in Mexico. First:

Nearly 60 percent of workers — street vendors, gardeners, construction workers — lived off their daily earnings. Dispatching police to keep them home would “exacerbate social unrest, and this unrest could limit our ability to control the epidemic,” said López-Gatell, a Hopkins-trained epidemiologist. López Obrador voiced another concern: Poor workers squeezed by police could “swell the ranks” of crime cartels, López-Gatell recalled in a recent interview.

And second:

The population has high levels of obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Some people, fearful of costs or wary of rumors about poor care, wait until they are in serious condition before going to the hospital.

They were in a precarious way from the start.  Their president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was right to consider the realities of his country, and still choose liberty over oppression.

Here are the stats on Mexico:

Mexico population: 127.6M
Mexico cases: 2.38M
Mexico deaths: 220K

I’m still here in Mexico and it’s literally business as usual. But given the political, economic, and social climate, the president made the best decision he could. Lock-downs would have inevitably sent the country into a tailspin of further poverty and corruption.

Finally Belarus! This quote says it all:

With low expectations of the authorities, Belarusians were bracing themselves for the worst.

The government did not lock anything down. They made no mandates whatsoever. In fact, its president Aleksander Lukashenko refused to take it as seriously as the neighboring countries. Here are the stats for Belarus:

Belarus population: 9.467M
Belarus cases: 375K
Belarus deaths: 2,691

What made these results possible? All efforts and focus were placed on the sick. That’s a big one. They had 10% of their population tested by June 2020. Left to decide for themselves, people self isolated if they felt they were a risk.

One major distinction is the low number of nursing homes in Belarus. The elderly aren’t all concentrated in these homes like many western countries such as Sweden or the UK. That vulnerable population is safer by default.

They also have high occupancy hospitals. Their efficacy to test, isolate, and treat was remarkable compared to other European countries.

You could argue that the cultures are what ultimately lead to the successful navigation through the global pandemic. Which might be true to some degree. But remember, South Dakota never shut down, and Florida lifted every mandate and restriction in September 2020, and they still saw lower tolls than California and New York which are still locked down.

Lock-downs did succeed in destroying economies and livelihoods, but not in destroying a virus. There’s no evidence suggesting that if any of these countries would’ve just had a year-long lock-down their death rates or cases would’ve reduced in any significant way. In fact, what little reduction they might’ve seen, would’ve been offset by exponential economic harm.

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