How to design language tests for citizenship

Immigration-based countries tend to have more pragmatic approach to language training than some of the European examples cited:

“Perfect swedish is overrated. But comprehensible Swedish is deeply underrated,” says Ulf Kristersson, the leader of Sweden’s centre-right Moderate party, which supports a language requirement to become a Swedish citizen. The left has come round, too: the Social Democrat-led government plans to introduce a language test. Sweden would thereby leave the small club of European countries that do not make passing such a test a condition of naturalisation.

To learn the language of the country you live in is the key to a full life there. But many experts in language policy oppose testing for citizenship—because they suspect a less compassionate motive in some who propose them. “Becoming a Danish citizen is something one has to become worthy of,” said Inger Stojberg in 2015, when she was the immigration and integration minister in Denmark’s centre-right government—implying that the unworthy had been slipping through. Her thinly camouflaged goal was not to improve immigrants’ Danish, but to naturalise fewer of them.

Sweden proposes language requirement for would-be citizens

Pretty standard requirements elsewhere:

Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson presented details of an inquiry into the proposals on Wednesday morning.

“Language is the key to work, but also the key to society,” said Johansson as he outlined why the government thought it needed to find “a better balance between rights and responsibilities” for would-be citizens.

Foreign nationals applying to become Swedish would need proof of Swedish skills at A2 level for speaking and writing, the second lowest out of six levels on the Common European Framework of Reference, and B1 for reading and listening.

To take the test, it would cost 500 kronor ($60) for the section relating to civil society and 2,000 kronor for the language component.

Citizenship applicants could alternatively provide proof of passing Grade 9 in a Swedish high school, or a course at upper secondary school, or the highest level of the Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) course.

The language requirements would apply to people aged between 16 and 66 who apply for Swedish citizenship, but certain exceptions are proposed, including for people with certain disabilities or those who are from a vulnerable background – for example being stateless or illiterate – who can prove they have tried to reach the required knowledge level but been unsuccessful.

Citizens of other Nordic countries who live in Sweden would also be exempted, as they are subject to a different process and are only required to notify authorities, rather than apply, in order to receive citizenship.

The proposals were put together based on reviewing the processes in place in other European countries, of which only three including Sweden do not currently require a language test.

But the details aren’t finalised yet. The next stage is to send the proposals out for consultation from relevant authorities, and they may be adapted depending on the responses received. Then a proposal would need to be passed by parliament and work to begin on putting together the tests.

“This is a reasonable proposal and we hope that it can be put into place as soon as possible, but of course this is a large organisational challenge,” said Johansson.

The government committed to investigating language tests for citizenship applicants in the cross-bloc deal struck with the Centre and Liberal parties, whose support the Social Democrat-Green coalition needed to form a government.

Separately, the government is looking into whether language skills should be required for permanent residence in Sweden.

Source: https://www.thelocal.se/20210113/sweden-proposes-language-requirement-for-would-be-citizens

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 6 January Update

The standard charts can be found below.

There has understandably been a “feeding frenzy” regarding federal and provincial parliamentarians who have disregarded public health and their own government’s advice to forego travel, domestic or international, during the holidays.

In some cases, this has been to visit elderly family members (e.g., Sameer Zuberi and Kamal Khera of the Liberals, Niki Ashton of the NDP), in others for holidays (the various Alberta MLAs and Premier Kenney’s Chief of Staff, Quebec MNA Pierre Arcand) along with others.

Responsibility and accountability has been mixed. The federal NDP handled Ashton’s case the best, removing her quickly from her critic responsibilities, setting the tone for the federal liberals to follow sui. Ontario Premier Ford initially botched it being aware of his former finance minister Rod Phillips vacationing in St Barts but recovering quickly by accepting (insisting?) on his resignation. In rare tone deafness, Alberta Premier Kenney initial response not to sanction minister Allard, his Chief of Staff Huckabay and a number of MLAs, for travel during the holidays, that prompted outrage on all sides of the political spectrum and led to belated resignations and discipline.

Highly ironic given Kenney and the UCP reliance of “personal responsibility” and “good judgement” to reduce COVID risks when so many in the government have demonstrated neither.

Some good examples of Alberta commentary:

Rick Bell: Premier Kenney, it’s time to face the music

Don Braid: Kenney fires and demotes to spike scandal, but Albertans will decide if they forgive

And the contrary arguments from C2C’s editor George Koch:

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney first avoided meting out Ford-style punishment upon Allard and her fellow travellers. When the news broke, Kenney himself shouldered much of the blame and said he would provide new and crystal-clear “guidelines” covering ministers, MLAs and senior bureaucrats. The opposition, however, gleefully called for Allard’s headwhile the media republished tweets demanding Kenney’s own resignation. It has become fashionable to criticize nearly anything Kenney says or does; his handling of the pandemic is, according to one poll, approved of by just 30 percent of Albertans.

Personally, I found the Alberta premier’s initial response not only courageous but admirable and honourable. Unlike Ford and innumerable politicians, corporate leaders and heads of other organizations in countless analogous situations, Kenney declined to throw Allard under the bus. This is not the first time Kenney has gone to the mat for a subordinate, at considerable short-term political cost to himself. Who would you rather work for? Further, someone who clearly cares about the people who work for him might, just might, also be sincere in his concern for small businesspeople and voters at large.

Sadly, however, Kenney ultimately could not resist the stinking red tide of public opinion; on Monday, he accepted Allard’s resignation from cabinet, as well as that of his chief of staff, who had travelled to the UK, and demoted the other MLAs.

Source: https://c2cjournal.us19.list-manage.com/track/click?u=e8efce716429c34122979e2de&id=cb2f1e50a3&e=4174a59277

Minor week to week changes:

Infections per million: Sweden moves ahead of UK which in turn moves ahead of France, Canada total ahead of Prairies

Deaths per million: Germany moves ahead of Canada

And the standard weekly charts and table.

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 30 December Update, including cumulative data

Will now provide the trend line and weekly data to provide a more complete picture. As the charts are self-explanatory (advise me if not), will continue to keep narrative to a minimum.

Alberta’s infection rate maintains its overall convergence with Quebec whereas the death rate of the Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) have converged with Ontario’s.

The other related news, despite all the warnings and advice from political leaders, the Ontario finance minister was caught “off message” with a trip to the exclusive Caribbean of St Barts. Not the only one, Quebec MNA Pierre Arcand went to Barbados. Not to forget federal health minister Patty Hajdu’s repeated trips home to her riding during the first wave.

One expects better.

Lastly, may I wish you a happier new year.

Weekly updates below. Minor changes only:

Infections per million: UK moves ahead of Italy

Deaths per million: Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) moves ahead of Ontario

And the standard weekly charts and table.

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 23 December Update including cumulative data

For a change and end 2020, I prepared these charts comparing infection and death rates per million for Canadian provinces with the G7 (less Canada) and top five immigration source countries (India, China, Philippines, Pakistan and Nigeria).

For the G7 average, only Japan is significantly lower. For immigration source countries, the large populations, lower infection and death rates except for India, and perhaps less comprehensive reporting, mean that rates are lower than all provinces save for Atlantic.

The charts compare the overall second-wave increase and particularly the relatively steeper increase in Western provinces for both infections and deaths.

While Canadian provincial infection rates are less than G7 (less Canada), Quebec’s death rate is higher than the G7.

And the standard weekly charts and table.

And in a rare public comment, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf “condemned political leaders for their experiment, branding the light-touch strategy a miserable and deadly failure.”

Remember in the early days of the pandemic, when people like Tucker Carlson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) advocated that the U.S. follow the Swedish model of avoiding strict lockdowns and letting life carry on largely as normal amid the highly contagious virus?

Well, as the year ends, Sweden is coming to terms with a death toll that is approximately 10 times higher than neighboring Norway and Finland, and now its king has condemned political leaders for their experiment, branding the light-touch strategy a miserable and deadly failure.

“The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions,” King Carl XVI Gustaf, who is traditionally tight-lipped on political matters, told the Swedish state broadcaster SVT. He added, “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible.”

Although it’s remarkable for a king to comment on policy, his actual comments were a statement of the obvious. Anders Tegnell, the country’s top epidemiologist who designed its anti-lockdown strategy, has himself admitted that too many people have died and the country should have done more to prevent the spread of the disease from the outset.

Throughout the pandemic, Swedes have been allowed to go to restaurants and bars with no social-distancing measures in place and, until recently, were allowed to hit the gym and send their kids to school. The country has also broken with the near-universal guidance of recommending that protective face masks be worn in public, except in hospitals.

The sight of Swedes packing restaurants and bars in the first wave of the pandemic led some commentators in the U.S. to urge their own leaders to follow Sweden’s example. That way, they said, the economy would be protected and the virus could make its way through the population and offer a good level of herd immunity to slow down its spread.

Since then, deaths in Sweden have soared well beyond similar-size neighboring countries, and Tegnell previously said there’s no sign that herd immunity is doing anything to slow down the rate of infection. And the Swedish economy still entered a harsh recession—although it was milder than those seen in most other European nations.

The rapid increase in new infections has even caused Sweden to partially abandon its anti-lockdown strategy, with the government imposing tougher rules to reduce the limit on public gatherings to eight people from 50, asking high schools to do their teaching remotely, and banning late alcohol sales. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson warned last month that the measures will harm the economy but are necessary.

Speaking to Swedish network TV4 this week, Tegnell said he was shocked by the second wave of the pandemic, saying, “I think many, with me, are surprised that it has been able to come back so strongly.”

A poll published Thursday showed that support for Tegnell and his approach has collapsed over the past two months.

Source: Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf Brands His Country’s Anti-Lockdown Strategy as a Deadly Failure

After Months of Minimal COVID-19 Containment, Sweden Appears to Be Considering a New Approach

 

Better late than never:

Swedish authorities appear to be reconsidering their notoriously lax approach to COVID-19 containment, which has contributed to one of the world’s higher coronavirus death rates.

Starting Oct. 19, regional health authorities may direct citizens to avoid high-risk areas such as gyms, concerts, public transportation and shopping centers, the Telegraph reports. They may also encourage residents to avoid socializing with elderly or other high-risk individuals.

“It’s more of a lockdown situation—but a local lockdown,” Dr. Johan Nojd, who leads the infectious diseases department in the city of Uppsala, told theTelegraph.

In a statement provided to TIME, however, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Sweden rejected that characterization.

“It is not a lockdown but some extra recommendations that could be communicated locally when a need from the regional authorities is communicated and the Public Health Agency so decides,” the spokesperson said.

A legal official from Sweden’s public health agency told the Telegraph the new policy is “something in between regulations and recommendations.” Violating the guidelines, for example, would not result in fines. Still, it’s a significant shift from Sweden’s previous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While countries around the world implemented lockdowns once the virus began spreading, Swedish authorities largely let life continue as normal.

The Swedish government in March limited public gatherings to 50 people, but the policy left gaping loopholes—it doesn’t apply to private and corporate gatherings, nor to schools, shopping malls and plenty of other locations. Restaurants and bars never closed. Masks are not recommended in most places. There’s little to stop people from going to school or work if they come into contact with an infected person. Sweden’s testing and contact tracing capacitiesare lacking.

As of Oct. 18, Sweden’s per-capita death rate—58.6 per 100,000 people—was among the highest in the world. And from early September to early October, average daily cases nationwide rose by 173%, with particularly dramatic increases in cities such as Stockholm and Uppsala.

These hard-hit areas are the focus of Sweden’s shifting guidance, according to theTelegraph‘s report. Nojd told the outlet he is considering telling people in Uppsala not to visit the elderly and other vulnerable populations, and to avoid making unnecessary trips on public transportation. He also mentioned the possibility of imposing curfews on restaurants.

Representatives from the city of Uppsala did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for further comment.

Swedish authorities appear to be conceding that reaching herd immunity—the threshold at which enough of a population is immune to the virus for it to stop spreading widely—is unlikely to be happen without a vaccine. While officials have avoided explicitly calling herd immunity the goal of their casual containment approach, emails obtained by journalists show high-level Swedish public-health officials discussing that strategy as early as March, apparently motivated by economic concerns.

National studies, however, show that far fewer people have developed natural immunity than officials hoped—as evidenced by the ongoing spike in infections. Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell acknowledged that reality last week.

“I think the obvious conclusion is that the level of immunity in those cities is not at all as high as we have, as maybe some people, have believed,” Tegnell said. “I think what we are seeing is very much a consequence of the very heterogeneous spread that this disease has, which means that even if you feel like there have been a lot of cases in some big cities, there are still huge pockets of people who have not been affected yet.”

Source: After Months of Minimal COVID-19 Containment, Sweden Appears to Be Considering a New Approach

The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn’t Be a Model for the Rest of the World

Good telling analysis. By way of comparison, Quebec death rate is about 71 per 100,000, Ontario 21 per 100,000 and Canada less Quebec 13 per 100,000.

Money quote: “The Swedish way has yielded little but death and misery.”

The Swedish COVID-19 experiment of not implementing early and strong measures to safeguard the population has been hotly debated around the world, but at this point we can predict it is almost certain to result in a net failure in terms of death and suffering. As of Oct. 13, Sweden’s per capita death rate is 58.4 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data, 12th highest in the world (not including tiny Andorra and San Marino). But perhaps more striking are the findings of a study published Oct. 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which pointed out that, of the countries the researchers investigated, Sweden and the U.S. essentially make up a category of two: they are the only countries with high overall mortality rates that have failed to rapidly reduce those numbers as the pandemic has progressed.

Yet the architects of the Swedish plan are selling it as a success to the rest of the world. And officials in other countries, including at the top level of the U.S. government, are discussing the strategy as one to emulate—despite the reality that doing so will almost certainly increase the rates of death and misery.

Countries that locked down early and/or used extensive test and tracing—including Denmark, Finland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and New Zealand—saved lives and limited damage to their economies. Countries that locked down late, came out of lock down too early, did not effectively test and quarantine, or only used a partial lockdown—including Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K.—have almost uniformly done worse in rates of infection and death.

Despite this, Sweden’s Public Health Agency director Johan Carlson has claimedthat “the Swedish situation remains favorable,” and that the country’s response has been “consistent and sustainable.” The data, however, show that the case rate in Sweden, as elsewhere in Europe, is currently increasing.

Average daily cases rose 173% nationwide from Sept. 2-8 to Sept. 30-Oct. 6 and in Stockholm that number increased 405% for the same period. Though some have argued that rising case numbers can be attributed to increased testing, a recent study of Stockholm’s wastewater published Oct. 5 by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) argues otherwise. An increased concentration of the virus in wastewater, the KTH researchers write, shows a rise of the virus in the population of the greater Stockholm area (where a large proportion of the country’s population live) in a way that is entirely independent of testing. Yet even with this rise in cases, the government is easing the few restrictions it had in place.

From early on, the Swedish government seemed to treat it as a foregone conclusion that many people would die. The country’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on April 3, “We will have to count the dead in thousands. It is just as well that we prepare for it.” In July, as the death count reached 5,500, Löfven said that the “strategy is right, I am completely convinced of that.” In September, Dr. Anders Tegnell, the Public Health Agency epidemiologist in charge of the country’s COVID-19 response reiterated the party line that a growing death count did “not mean that the strategy itself has gone wrong.” There has been a lack of written communication between the Prime Minister and the Pubic Health Authority: when the authors requested all emails and documents between the Prime Minister’s office and the Public Health Authority for the period Jan. 1—Sept. 14, the Prime Minister’s Registrar replied on Sept. 17 that none existed.

Despite the Public Health Agency’s insistence to the contrary, the core of this strategy is widely understood to have been about building natural “herd immunity”—essentially, letting enough members of a population (the herd) get infected, recover, and then develop an immune system response to the virus that it would ultimately stop spreading. Both the agency and Prime Minister Löfven have characterized the approach as “common sense“ trust-based recommendations rather than strict measures, such as lockdowns, which they say are unsustainable over an extended period of time—and that herd immunity was just a desirable side effect. However, internal government communications suggest otherwise.

Emails obtained by one of the authors through Freedom of Information laws (called offentlighetsprincipen, or “Openness Principle,” in Swedish) between national and regional government agencies, including the Swedish Public Health Authority, as well as those obtained by other journalists, suggest that the goal was all along in fact to develop herd immunity. We have also received information through sources who made similar requests or who corresponded directly with government agencies that back up this conclusion. For the sake of transparency, we created a website where we’ve posted some of these documents.

One example showing clearly that government officials had been thinking about herd immunity from early on is a March 15 email sent from a retired doctor to Tegnell, the epidemiologist and architect of the Swedish plan, which he forwarded to his Finnish counterpart, Mika Salminen. In it, the retired doctor recommended allowing healthy people to be infected in controlled settings as a way to fight the epidemic. “One point would be to keep schools open to reach herd immunity faster,” Tegnell noted at the top of the forwarded email.

Salminen responded that the Finnish Health Agency had considered this but decided against it, because “over time, the children are still going to spread the infection to other age groups.” Furthermore, the Finnish model showed that closing schools would reduce “the attack rate of the disease on the elderly” by 10%. Tegnell responded:10 percent might be worth it?”

The majority of the rest of Sweden’s policymakers seemed to have agreed: the country never closed daycare or schools for children under the age of 16, and school attendance is mandatory under Swedish law, with no option for distance learning or home schooling, even for family members in high risk groups. Policymakers essentially decided to use children and schools as participants in an experiment to see if herd immunity to a deadly disease could be reached. Multiple outbreaks at schools occurred in both the spring and autumn.

At this point, whether herd immunity was the “goal” or a “byproduct” of the Swedish plan is semantics, because it simply hasn’t worked. In April, the Public Health Agency predicted that 40% of the Stockholm population would have the disease and acquire protective antibodies by May. According to the agency’s ownantibody studies published Sept. 3 for samples collected up until late June, the actual figure for random testing of antibodies is only 11.4% for Stockholm, 6.3% for Gothenburg and 7.1% across Sweden. As of mid-August, herd immunity was still “nowhere in sight,” according to a Journal of the Royal Society of Medicinestudy. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, herd immunity to an infectious disease has never been achieved without a vaccine.

Löfven, his government, and the Public Health Agency all say that the high COVID-19 death rate in Sweden can be attributed to the fact that a large portion of these deaths occurred in nursing homes, due to shortcomings in elderly care.

However, the high infection rate across the country was the underlying factor that led to a high number of those becoming infected in care homes. Many sick elderly were not seen by a doctor because the country’s hospitals were implementing a triage system that, according to a study published July 1 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, appeared to have factored in age and predicted prognosis. “This likely reduced [intensive care unit] load at the cost of more high-risk patients”—like elderly people with confirmed infection—dying outside the ICU.” Only 13% of the elderly residents who died with COVID-19 during the spring received hospital care, according to preliminary statistics from the National Board of Health and Welfare released Aug.

In one case which seems representative of how seniors were treated, patient Reza Sedghi was not seen by a doctor the day he died from COVID-19 at a care home in Stockholm. A nurse told Sedghi’s daughter Lili Perspolisi that her father was given a shot of morphine before he passed away, that no oxygen was administered and staff did not call an ambulance. “No one was there and he died alone,” Perspolisi says.

In order to be admitted for hospital care, patients needed to have breathing problems and even then, many were reportedly denied care. Regional healthcare managers in each of Sweden’s 21 regions, who are responsible for care at hospitals as well as implementing Public Health Agency guidelines, have claimed that no patients were denied care during the pandemic. But internal local government documents from April from some of Sweden’s regions—including those covering the biggest cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö—also show directives for how some patients including those receiving home care, those living at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and those with special needs could not receive oxygen or hospitalization in some situations. Dagens Nyheterpublished an investigation on Oct. 13 showing that patients in Stockholm were denied care as a result of these guidelines. Further, a September investigation by Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s national public broadcaster, found that more than 100 people reported to the Swedish Health and Care Inspectorate that their relatives with COVID-19 either did not receive oxygen or nutrient drops or that they were not allowed to come to hospital.

These issues do not only affect the elderly or those who had COVID-19. The National Board of Health and Welfare’s guidelines for intensive care in extraordinary circumstances throughout Sweden state that priority should be given to patients based on biological, not chronological, age. Sörmlands Media, in an investigation published May 13, cited a number of sources saying that, in many parts of the country, the health care system was already operating in a way such that people were being denied the type of inpatient care they would have received in normal times. Regional health agencies were using a Clinical Frailty Scale, an assessment tool designed to predict the need for care in a nursing home or hospital, and the life expectancy of older people by estimating their fragility, to determine whether someone should receive hospital care and was applied to decisions regarding all sorts of treatment, not only for COVID-19. These guidelines led to many people with health care needs unrelated to COVID-19 not getting the care they need, with some even dying as a result—collateral damage of Sweden’s COVID-19 strategy.

Dr. Michael Broomé, the chief physician at Stockholm’s Karolinska Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, says his department’s patient load tripled during the spring. His staff, he says, “have often felt powerless and inadequate. We have lost several young, previously healthy, patients with particularly serious disease courses. We have also repeatedly been forced to say no to patients we would normally have accepted due to a lack of experienced staff, suitable facilities and equipment.”

In June, Dagens Nyheter reported a story of one case showing how disastrous such a scenario can be. Yanina Lucero had been ill for several weeks in March with severe breathing problems, fever and diarrhea, yet COVID-19 tests were not available at the time except for those returning from high risk areas who displayed symptoms, those admitted to the hospital, and those working in health care. Yanina was only 39 years old and had no underlying illnesses. Her husband Cristian brought her to an unnamed hospital in Stockholm, but were told it was full and sent home, where Lucero’s health deteriorated. After several days when she could barely walk, an ambulance arrived and Lucero was taken to Huddinge hospital, where she was sedated and put on a ventilator. She died on April 15 without receiving a COVID-19 test in hospital.

Sweden did try some things to protect citizens from the pandemic. On March 12 the government restricted public gatherings to 500 people and the next day the Public Health Agency issued a press release telling people with possible COVID-19 symptoms to stay home. On March 17, the Public Health Agency asked employers in the Stockholm area to let employees work from home if they could. The government further limited public gatherings to 50 people on March 29. Yet there were no recommendations on private events and the 50-person limit doesn’t apply to schools, libraries, corporate events, swimming pools, shopping malls or many other situations. Starting April 1, the government restricted visitsto retirement homes (which reopened to visitors on Oct. 1 without masksrecommended for visitors or staff). But all these recommendations came later than in the other Nordic countries. In the interim, institutions were forced to make their own decisions; some high schools and universities changed to on-line teaching and restaurants and bars went to table seating with distance, and some companies instituted rules about wearing masks on site and encouraging employees to work from home.

Meanwhile Sweden built neither the testing nor the contact-tracing capacity that other wealthy European countries did. Until the end of May (and again in August), Sweden tested 20% the number of people per capita compared with Denmark, and less than both Norway and Finland; Sweden has often had among the lowest test rates in Europe. Even with increased testing in the fall, Sweden still only tests only about one-fourth that of Denmark.

Sweden never quarantined those arriving from high-risk areas abroad nor did it close most businesses, including restaurants and bars. Family members of those who test positive for COVID-19 must attend school in person, unlike in many other countries where if one person in a household tests positive the entire family quarantines, usually for 14 days. Employees must also report to work as usual unless they also have symptoms of COVID-19, an agreement with their employer for a leave of absence or a doctor recommends that they isolate at home.

On Oct. 1, the Public Health Authority issued non-binding “rules of conduct” that open the possibility for doctors to be able to recommend that certain individuals stay home for seven days if a household member tests positive for COVID-19. But there are major holes in these rules: they do not apply to children (of all ages, from birth to age 16, the year one starts high school), people in the household who previously have a positive PCR or antibody test or, people with socially important professions, such as health care staff (under certain circumstances).

There is also no date for when the rule would go into effect. “It may not happen right away, Stockholm will start quickly but some regions may need more time to get it all in place,” Tegnell said at a Oct. 1 press conference. Meanwhile, according to current Public Health Agency guidelines issued May 15 and still in place, those who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to attend work and school with mild symptoms so long as they are seven days post-onset of symptoms and fever free for 48 hours.

Sweden actually recommends against masks everywhere except in places where health care workers are treating COVID-19 patients (some regions expand that to health care workers treating suspected patients as well). Autumn corona outbreaks in Dalarna, Jönköping, Luleå, Malmö, Stockholm and Uppsalahospitals are affecting both hospital staff and patients. In an email on April 5, Tegnell wrote to Mike Catchpole, the chief scientist at the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC): “We are quite worried about the statement ECDC has been preparing about masks.” Tegnell attached a documentin which he expresses concern that ECDC recommending facemasks would “imply that the spread is airborne which would seriously harm further communication and trust among the population and health care workers” and concludes “we would like to warn against the publication of this advice.” Despite this, on April 8 ECDC recommended masks and on June 8 the World Health Organization updated its stance to recommend masks.

Sweden’s government officials stuck to their party line. Karin Tegmark Wisell of the Public Health Agency said at a press conference on July 14 that “we see around the world that masks are used in a way so that you rather increase the spread of infection.” Two weeks later, Lena Hallengren, the Minister of Health and Social Affairs, spoke about masks at a press conference on July 29 and said, “We don’t have that tradition or culture” and that the government “would not review the Public Health Agency’s decision not to recommend masks.”

All of this creates a situation which leaves teachers, bus drivers, medical workers and care home staff more exposed, without face masks at a time when the rest of the world is clearly endorsing widespread mask wearing.

On Aug. 13, Tegnell said that to recommend masks to the public “quite a lot of resources are required. There is quite a lot of money that would be spent if you are going to have masks.” Indeed, emails between Tegnell and colleagues at the Public Health Agency and Andreas Johansson of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs show that the policy concerns of the health authority were influenced by financial interests, including the commercial concerns of Sweden’s airports.

Swedavia, the owner of the country’s largest airport, Stockholm Arlanda, told employees during the spring and early summer they could not wear masks or gloves to work. One employee told Upsala Nya Tidning newspaper on Aug. 24 “Many of us were sick during the beginning of the pandemic and two colleagues have died due to the virus. I would estimate that 60%-80% of the staff at the security checks have had the infection.”

“Our union representatives fought for us to have masks at work,” the employee said, “but the airport’s response was that we were an authority that would not spread fear, but we would show that the virus was not so dangerous.” Swedavia’s reply was that they had introduced the infection control measures recommended by the authorities. On July 1, the company changed its policy, recommending masks for everyone who comes to Arlanda—that, according to a Swedavia spokesperson, was not as a result of “an infection control measure advocated by Swedish authorities,” but rather, due to a joint European Union Aviation Safety Agency and ECDC recommendation for all of Europe.

As early as January, the Public Health Agency was warning the government about costs. In a Jan. 31 communique, Public Health Agency Director Johan Carlsson (appointed by Löfven) and General Counsel Bitte Bråstad wrote to the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, cautioning the government about costs associated with classifying COVID-19 as a socially dangerous disease: “After a decision on quarantine, costs for it [include] compensation which according to the Act, must be paid to those who, due to the quarantine decision, must refrain from gainful employment. The uncertainty factors are many even when calculating these costs. Society can also suffer a loss of production due to being quarantined [and] prevented from performing gainful employment which they would otherwise have performed.” Sweden never implemented quarantine in society, not even for those returning from travel abroad or family members of those who test positive for COVID-19.

Not only did these lack of measures likely result in more infections and deaths, but it didn’t even help the economy: Sweden has fared worse economically than other Nordic countries throughout the pandemic.

The Swedish way has yielded little but death and misery. And, this situation has not been honestly portrayed to the Swedish people or to the rest of the world.

A Public Health Agency report published July 7 included data for teachers in primary schools working on-site as well as for secondary school teachers who switched to distance instruction online. In the report, they combined the two data sources and compared the result to the general population, stating that teachers were not at greater risk and implying that schools were safe. But in fact, the infection rate of those teaching in classrooms was 60% higher than those teaching online—completely undermining the conclusion of the report.

The report also compares Sweden to Finland for March through the end of May and wrongly concludes that the ”closing of schools had no measurable effect on the number of cases of COVID-19 among children.” As testing among children in Sweden was almost non-existent at that time compared to Finland, these data were misrepresented; a better way to look at it would be to consider the fact that Sweden had seven times as many children per capita treated in the ICU during that time period.

When pressed about discrepancies in the report, Public Health Agency epidemiologist Jerker Jonsson replied on Aug. 21 via email: “The title is a bit misleading. It is not a direct comparison of the situation in Finland to the situation in Sweden. This is just a report and not a peer-reviewed scientific study. This was just a quick situation report and nothing more.” However the Public Health Agency and Minister of Education continue to reference this report as justification to keep schools open, and other countries cite it as an example.

This is not the only case where Swedish officials have misrepresented data in an effort to make the situation seem more under control than it really is. In April, a group of 22 scientists and physicians criticized Sweden’s government for the 105 deaths per day the country was seeing at the time, and Tegnell and the Public Health Agency responded by saying the true number was just 60 deaths per day. Revised government figures now show Tegnell was incorrect and the critics were right. The Public Health Agency says the discrepancy was due to a backlog in accounting for deaths, but they have backlogged deaths throughout the pandemic, making it difficult to track and gauge the actual death toll in real time.

Sweden never went into an official lockdown but an estimated 1.5 million have self-isolated, largely the elderly and those in risk groups. This was probably the largest factor in slowing the spread of the virus in the country in the summer. However, recent data suggest that cases are yet again spiking in the country, and there’s no indication that government policies will adapt.

Health care workers, scientists and private citizens have all voiced concerns about the Swedish approach. But Sweden is a small country, proud of its humanitarian image—so much so that we cannot seem to understand when we have violated it. There is simply no way to justify the magnitude of lost lives, poorer health and putting risk groups into long-term isolation, especially not in an effort to reach an unachievable herd immunity. Countries need to take care before adopting the “Swedish way.” It could have tragic consequences for this pandemic or the next.

Source: The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn’t Be a Model for the Rest of the World

Coronavirus takes a toll in Sweden’s immigrant community

Like elsewhere:

The flight from Italy was one of the last arrivals that day at the Stockholm airport. A Swedish couple in their 50s walked up and loaded their skis into Razzak Khalaf’s taxi.

It was early March and concerns over the coronavirus were already present, but the couple, both coughing for the entire 45-minute journey, assured Khalaf they were healthy and just suffering from a change in the weather. Four days later, the Iraqi immigrant got seriously ill with COVID-19.

Still not able to return to work, Khalaf is part of the growing evidence that those in immigrant communities in the Nordic nations are being hit harder by the pandemic than the general population.

Sweden took a relatively soft approach to fighting the coronavirus, one that attracted international attention. Large gatherings were banned but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have largely complied.

The country has paid a heavy price, with 2,769 fatalities from COVID-19. That’s more than 26 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with about 8 per 100,000 in neighboring Denmark, which imposed a strict lockdown early on that is only now being slowly lifted.

Inside Sweden’s immigrant communities, anecdotal evidence emerged early in the outbreak that suggested that some — particularly those from Somalia and Iraq — were hit harder than others. Last month, data from Sweden’s Public Health Agency confirmed that Somali Swedes made up almost 5 percent of the country’s COVID-19 cases, yet represented less than 1 percent of its 10 million people.

Many in these communities are more likely to live in crowded, multigeneration households and are unable to work remotely.

“No one cares for taxi drivers in Sweden,” said Khalaf, who tested positive and was admitted to a hospital when his condition deteriorated. Despite difficulties breathing, the 49-year-old says he was sent home after six hours and told his body was strong enough to “fight it off.”

In Finland, Helsinki authorities warned of a similar over-representation among Somali immigrants in the capital — some 200 cases, or about 14%, of all confirmed infections. In Norway, where immigrants make up nearly 15% of the general population, they represent about 25% of confirmed coronavirus cases.

“I think a pandemic like this one, or any crisis will hit the most vulnerable people in society the most wherever in the world, and we see this in many many countries,” said Isabella Lovin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, in an interview with The Associated Press.

Noting that the virus was spreading faster in some crowded Stockholm suburbs, Lovin said said the city is providing short-term accommodation to some people whose relatives are vulnerable.

Sweden, Norway and Finland recognized early failings in community outreach in minority languages and are seeking to fix this. The town of Jarfalla, outside Stockholm, has had high school students hand out leaflets in Somali, Persian, French and other languages, urging people to wash their hands and stay home if sick.

With Sweden’s relatively low-key approach to fighting the virus that relies mainly on voluntary social distancing, there are concerns the message has not reached everyone in immigrant neighborhoods.

“It’s important that everyone living here who has a different mother tongue gets the right information,” said Warda Addallah, a 17-year-old Somali Swede.

Anders Wallensten, Sweden’s deputy state epidemiologist, said officials have worked harder on communicating with such groups “to make sure they have the knowledge to protect themselves and avoid spreading the disease to others.”

But teacher and community activist Rashid Musa says the problem runs much deeper.

“I wish it were that easy — that you needed to just translate a few papers,” he said. “We need to look at the more fundamental issue, which is class, which is racism, which is social status, which is income.”

“The rich have the opportunity to put themselves into quarantine, they can go to their summer houses,” Musa said.

A key government recommendation for individuals to work from home if possible is harder in marginalized areas where many have jobs in the service sector.

“How can a bus driver or a taxi driver work from home?” Musa asked.

Evidence of this disparity can be found in anonymous data aggregated by mobile phone operator Telia, which has given the Swedish Health Authority information about population mobility. By comparing the number of people in an area early in the morning with those who traveled to another area for at least an hour later in the day, Telia estimates how many go to work and how many stay home.

“We do see certain areas that are maybe more affluent with a bigger number of people working from home,” said Kristofer Agren, the head of data insights for Telia. Data shows a 12 percentage point difference between Danderyd, one of Stockholm’s most affluent suburbs, and Botkryka, one with the highest percentage of first- and second-generation immigrants.

“Many of our members have contracted the coronavirus,” said Akil Zahiri, who helps administer the mosque on the outskirts of Stockholm. “But you do the best you can.”

Zahiri spoke to the AP as he sat alone in Sweden’s largest Shiite mosque coordinating a video call with the congregation to pray for a member who died of COVID-19. The sound of prayer crackled through the computer, breaking the silence in the empty hall.

During Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast during the day, the mosque canceled all public events. Zahiri reminded the congregation to take part in social distancing, urging them to stay home for the Iftar, the daily breaking of the fast after sunset, and to avoid sharing food with friends.

Source: Coronavirus takes a toll in Sweden’s immigrant community

Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

Interesting comparison, showing despite the different approaches, the underlying views on citizenship requirements in all three countries were very similar:

In 2018, together with our colleagues in the other Scandinavian countries, we undertook a representative survey in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Young people from ages 20 to 36 were interviewed – just over 7500 in total. Individuals from the majority populations, descendants of immigrants from Iraq, Pakistan, Poland, Somalia, Turkey, and Vietnam, were included. Immigrants from Iraq and Somalia also participated in the survey in all three countries, while immigrants from Pakistan, Poland and Turkey were included, in addition, in the Norwegian sample. All respondents were asked what they considered reasonable requirements for citizenship, what they thought of the existing rules in their respective countries, and to what extent they felt they were recognized as members of the national community.

Citizenship is the last stop on the way to formal membership in a new homeland. Before this, immigrants with legal status already enjoy many rights. New members of Scandinavian societies have access to some civil and social rights, from day one in the country. Still, citizenship is regarded as important and attractive, especially among those who come from countries with greater legal, economic, and political uncertainty. Citizenship in Scandinavia protects them from deportation, in principle at least. It bestows help overseas, grants the right to vote in parliamentary elections – and not least, gives access to a Scandinavian passport, with all the rights to travel freely and work in the entire EU region.

In the last few years there has been a trend to implement stricter requirements for citizenship in many European countries, such as knowledge tests (language, history, and society), proof of self-sufficiency, and longer waiting times.

Among researchers, these stricter requirements are often interpreted from either a control or an integration perspective: Recent increases in immigration have made authorities keen on finding legal ways to control access to citizenship. On the other hand, concerns over integration have raised the bar for competence in language and knowledge about society, and those who are permanent residents and seek citizenship are required to meet this higher bar in order to become full members.

Regardless of how one interprets the politics, these laws create indisputably higher barriers. There has been an (implicit) assumption among researchers that the stricter requirements are not in immigrants’ interest, but no empirical research has been done. This new survey is the first to investigate these issues empirically.

The three Scandinavian countries are interesting to compare because they cover the entire scale when it comes to citizenship requirements. Denmark is one of the strictest countries in Europe when it comes to citizenship. Sweden is on the liberal outer edge, while Norway – as is often the case with immigration and integration policies – finds itself somewhere in the middle.

We began our study with the assumption that these marked political differences would be mirrored in the immigrant groups and descendants’ attitudes in the three countries – that immigrants and descendants in Denmark would be more critical of the country’s rules, than corresponding groups would be to Swedish policies in Sweden, for example. We also thought the majority populations would want stricter requirements than the minorities would, especially in Denmark. The results did not meet our expectations though, and in many ways were very surprising.

Overall the survey does not show big differences between the three countries, and when it comes to attitudes toward how the rules are and should be, there are barely differences between the three groups (majority, immigrants, and descendants). The prevailing attitude is that it is legitimate to set requirements for new members of society who become citizens – the majority across groups believe these requirements should include five years of residence, a simple language and society test, an oath, and being part of the work force. At the same time, they think it should be legal to keep one’s original citizenship when naturalizing. In other words, there should be clear requirements to become a full member of a Scandinavian society, but these should be reasonable and possible to meet. The results paint a picture of consensus on what “reasonable” means – a framework that lies somewhere between the extremes represented by Denmark and Sweden.

Other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

How should we interpret these findings? The alignment in attitudes across our survey respondents is a pointer to the fact that life in Scandinavia is not so different across the three countries, despite the respective states’ different policies on immigration. In fact, other institutions, like the education system, labor market, and health care system are probably more important as a basis for attitudes toward membership in society than citizenship.

The survey does not tell us anything about emphasis placed on different institutions’ importance for feelings of membership, acceptance, and belonging. But we do see indications of experiences of both discrimination and of lower levels of trust among minority groups.

The consensus on requirements, nevertheless, suggests that the citizenship institution continues to matter as a framework for togetherness. The survey also indicates that minority members of society are reflected actors, alongside majority society members, when it comes to guarding the last ticket into society – and what should be demanded, in order to ensure the functioning of an increasingly diverse society.

Source: Citizenship in Scandinavia – What are reasonable demands for full membership?

The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism