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Aussie billionaire’s savage COVID dig at Sweden

One of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs has lashed out at Sweden’s much-discussed coronavirus response labelling a recent second wave of cases in the Scandinavian nation as “scary”. In a tweet this morning, Mike Cannon-Brookes, the founder of Australian IT giant Atlassian, criticised Sweden’s approach which avoided mandated lockdowns and kept bars and shops open even…

One of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs has lashed out at Sweden’s much-discussed coronavirus response labelling a recent second wave of cases in the Scandinavian nation as “scary”.

In a tweet this morning, Mike Cannon-Brookes, the founder of Australian IT giant Atlassian, criticised Sweden’s approach which avoided mandated lockdowns and kept bars and shops open even during the early days of the pandemic when much of the world was in hibernation.

Mr Cannon-Brookes, who according to the BRW Rich List is Australia’s fifth wealthiest person with a net worth of almost $10 billion, uploaded a graph from website Our World in Data which showed Sweden’s confirmed new cases per million people exceeding those of the US.

“Next time anyone tells you Australia should have followed Sweden’s approach … they just passed the USA for cases/capita and that’s (sadly) a very scary curve,” he wrote.

Mr Cannon-Brookes added that Australians “(special shout out to Victorians!)” should be congratulated for a “huge, brilliant team effort” in keeping COVID-19 under control.

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Advocates of its more hands-off approach have argued it could provide lessons on how to handle the pandemic while letting life go on as close to normal as possible. But critics have said a huge wave of deaths and rising cases, far higher than its neighbours, have proved the country made the wrong decisions on combating the virus.

Pubs, most schools and other workplaces have remained open throughout the pandemic. When people in Sydney were banned from supping a beer in a bar, residents of Stockholm were enjoying sundowners with their mates.

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That’s not to say there were no restrictions on the nation’s 10 million citizens. People were barred from going to aged care homes, joining large gatherings and Swedes were encouraged to socially distance and work from home – which it seems they did almost as much as everyone else.

Initially at least, the “nudge” approach championed by Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Dr Anders Tegnell appeared to backfire. At one point, Sweden had more deaths per population than any other country.

Its overall number of deaths – at around 6000 – is a lower than many countries, but also far exceeds its neighbour Norway which has only seen 300 people die.

The vast majority of Sweden’s deaths occurred in the early months of the pandemic after the virus got into the aged care system.

Sweden’s death rate puts it as the 18th worst hit country with 59.78 fatalities per 100,000 people, with Belgium, Spain, Brazil, the UK, US, France and Italy worse off according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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LITTLE SIGN OF HERD IMMUNITY

Swedish officials have always denied there a herd immunity strategy in place. But, if there was, a recent rise in cases suggests that strategy failed.

From a daily average of around 200 cases from August to September, coronavirus cases in Sweden have begun to soar.

Yesterday, 4000 Swedes were diagnosed with COVID-19. The relaxed attitude of early 2020 also seems to have waned.

The Swedish government has proposed banning the sale of alcohol in pubs and restaurants after 10pm, after Prime Minister Stefan Lofven suggested people were not observing social distancing recommendations.

The ruling would mean venues would have to close at 10.30pm, after stopping the sale of alcoholic drinks half an hour beforehand.

“Unfortunately it also seems like we are moving towards darker times when it comes to the spread of infection in parts of the world, in Europe and here in Sweden,” Mr Lofven said on Wednesday. “All indications are now going in the wrong direction.”

The Prime Minister also warned the people of Sweden he was prepared to take more drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

DEATHS REMAIN LOW

However, as some people replied to Mr Canon-Brookes’ tweet, by another measure Sweden is still tracking far better than earlier in 2020 – deaths.

Fatalities reached a high point of 115 per day in mid-April. For the past three months deaths have been around two per day. The seven-day rolling average went up to 13 deaths a day last week but has since fallen under 10.

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It’s a trajectory mirrored elsewhere. Deaths in the US are continuing to rise, but a second wave of cases has not been mirrored in a similarly sized rise in fatalities.

Nonetheless, some states have warned the sheer number of cases means hospitals are beginning to fill up.

It’s possible that as younger people are now becoming infected, they may be more successful at fighting the virus or, as the virus is better understood, treatments may be more effective.

In August, Dr Tegnell said it could be some time before Sweden’s approach was either vindicated or rejected.

“It will be very difficult to achieve any kind of really clear-cut answer as to what was right and what was wrong,” he told UK newspaper The Observer.

“I think we’re talking years into the future before we can get any kind of consensus on how to deal with this in the best possible way.”

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