The new coronavirus continues to hit hard. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell believes that the situation in the pandemic will continue to worsen. The second wave of the Coronavirus Pandemic has hit several countries hard. In Sweden, the pressure on care is increasing, and Skaraborg Hospital, among others, is now caring for more covid-19 patients than last spring.
With an increased testing capacity, more cases of covid-19 are also found in Sweden. For the second week in a row, just over 30,000 cases were found in the country last week, but the increase was not as large as in recent weeks.
Almost all regions are hard hit right now.
“Although it may look like the increase is halting something, we probably need to be careful about pulling too much gear on it”, says Anders Tegnell, state epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Sweden, at Tuesday’s press conference: “We have probably not even reached a peak in this pandemic, but it will in all probability continue to develop more and more across the countries of the world”.
At the same time as the current upswing in Sweden is described as a second wave of infection, there have been reports from South Korea of a feared third wave. The Swedish Public Health Agency keeps an eye on developments, says Anders Tegnell. The Agency continues to follow the situation and will see how it develops. If there will be the third wave, and when it will, it is very difficult to judge now, according to the specialist who claims that we are in what may be the peak on the second wave, but it is not even certain that it is the peak on the second wave. This fear is based on the increase in the cases in many of Europe’s countries. Of course, one should have an eye forward and realize that this is probably not over with this wave either.
The false face mask dilemma that could cost Sweden thousands of lives
Face masks works. This is something that a large majority of our entire world around us agrees on. The head of the WHO, Mike Ryan, has explicitly stated this, and recent studies in Germany, among other places, have clearly shown the connection between the use of face masks and a reduction of the spread of infection.
Nor is it difficult in practical or legal terms to get people to start using face masks. After almost a year of pandemic, the supply of the product is good and can be found in many stores. Legally, it is doubtful whether, as in other countries, it would even have had to be introduced with legal requirements. The herd mentality in Swedish culture is strong, and those who deviate from the behavioral norm are quickly stigmatized.
With that said, it would probably have been enough for the government and the relevant authorities to issue a sharp recommendation to use face masks in socially dense environments. What had you had to lose?
The main counterarguments seem to revolve around people risking becoming more careless, among other things by being closer to others. How one can conclude that a constant reminder of face masks, whose purpose is precisely to protect people from a deadly pandemic, will make people wander away in the thoughts from the same pandemic, is very strange. The idea that people will get in the face to the extent that it would have negative effects also has weak research support.
It is a theory that is nothing more than that, a theory.
A theory that lacks international support. Both the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have explicitly called on Sweden to start using oral protection.
The Swedish Public Health Agency and the government have taken a very firm and pragmatic position regarding oral hygiene. With a lack of argument in substance, it is easy to conclude that the lack of reconsideration in the matter is rather derived from the fact that it is a matter of prestige. This position has simply been advocated for so long now that it is considered too late to change.
However, it becomes highly unfortunate when such prestige risks taking precedence over the security of Sweden and its citizens. The government should change its mind about the issue of oral protection before it is too late.
Sweden must push the EU towards a more equitable vaccination system in the EU
On 24 November, the EU adopted a new pharmaceutical strategy, which aims to improve access to medicines and make prices more affordable. But far more courageous commitments are needed to ensure equal access to medicines – an issue that may never have been more burning than it is now.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, huge investments have been made to accelerate research into vaccines, treatment, and diagnostics for covid-19. But with the current system, there are no guarantees that future vaccines and treatments will all benefit.
Although a significant part of covid-19 medical research is funded by government grants – that is, taxpayers’ money – pharmaceutical companies can control through many patents where the finished drugs are made available, and at what price. Also, there is in principle no public transparency in the agreements between state donors and pharmaceutical companies, although it is the terms of these agreements that determine who will have access to future medicines.
The fact that pharmaceutical companies have a monopoly on life-saving drugs and keep prices high can be devastating. As a result, millions of poor people were left without treatment when the HIV epidemic raged in the 1990s. Today we see similar problems with new tuberculosis drugs, which due to the high prices only reach a fraction of people with severe forms of tuberculosis.
The pharmaceutical industry often claims that patents are necessary to recoup the costs invested in research and development. But several studies, including by MSF and cancer researchers, show that companies got their investments back after only a few years.
Sweden is a major donor in health and has expressed an ambition to ensure a fairer global health system in the wake of the pandemic. An important part of this is to ensure an equal drug supply. Vaccines and treatment should be given according to need and not according to the capacity to pay.
A worrying matter
It is therefore worrying that the EU, with the support of Sweden, opposes India and South Africa’s proposal to the World Trade Organization WTO that countries should be able to temporarily waive patent law to import or manufacture cheaper generic drugs against covid-19 until sufficient immunity is achieved.
The position of the EU and Sweden testifies that the pharmaceutical interests are put before public health, despite the pandemic. If the EU is serious about securing better access to medicines, several bold changes are needed, which should preferably not be an exception for covid-19, but lasting measures that also apply to other serious diseases.
The EU should therefore increase the flexibility of intellectual property rights. Countries such as Germany and Hungary have revised their national patent laws to make it easier to overcome the obstacles that long patents can lead to. The EU should implement legal changes to make the use of, for example, compulsory licensing and imports of cheaper generic medicines more efficient.
Increased transparency is needed.
There is very little public transparency in the pharmaceutical industry, which creates imbalance vis-à-vis governments in price negotiations. In 2019, the World Health Organization WHO adopted a resolution on increasing transparency in the pharmaceutical market. The European Commission must now support countries in implementing the WHO resolution so that greater transparency about research investments, marketing costs, and clinical data can be achieved.
The European Commission should also map the state funding of medical research within the EU, which is estimated at SEK 250 billion annually, and help countries use the information to negotiate more affordable drug prices.
The EU should also recast the supplementary protection. The European Commission must examine the effects of the system of extended supplementary protection on public health, which could potentially lead to the complete abolition of extended supplementary protection.
We expect Sweden to push for the EU to implement these measures. They are crucial for the global pharmaceutical system to be more equitable – and ultimately for more people with serious illnesses and health conditions to have a chance to survive.
Coronavirus breaks in the Uppsala University raise questions about the future of education
Fifty new cases of covid-19 among Uppsala University students were found last week, UU reported on the Employee’s Portal. This means that 297 students at the university have been confirmed infected since the start of the semester.
Also, among the employees, the number of infections increased last week by 17 people, which means 33 cases since the start of the semester. Principal Eva Åkesson announced last Friday that she urges teachers to, if possible, go digital to prevent the spread of infection. So far, however, there are no plans to return to remote classes for all the students.
The coronavirus is not equal. Poor as well as rich can get sick and die from the virus. That is the harsh reality. During the previous week, Sweden had another 31,400 confirmed Corona cases.
Being a leader is not straightforward. A leader is faced with difficult choices. Several strict restrictions have been introduced in recent weeks, and if they are to affect, a break is required in the meetings that young people do every day in upper secondary schools. Especially since Covid-19 is believed to be an airborne infection, according to the report “Long-distance airborne dispersal of SARS-CoV-2 in COVID-19 wards” while cramped classrooms are a fact around the country’s high schools.
The school has become a half-measure where both municipalities and the state have been able to escape real responsibility by pointing at each other. This patching and repairing of a fundamentally misguided school system have now reached the end of the road. The gaps are growing. Besides, there is a significant risk that the record-high shortage of teachers reinforces already existing distortions in the school system.
An inquiry into state leadership will be appointed shortly. The inquiry needs to present a concrete model for nationalization.
Two main points that such a model must contain:
The main responsibility for the school today rests with 290 municipalities with very varying funding capacity, capacity, and ambition for the school. This leads to dramatic differences between different municipalities. The state needs to take over the leadership of the school.
This includes the entire financing of the school’s core mission (ie the costs related to teaching), the full responsibility for teachers ‘and principals’ continuing education, and the employer’s responsibility for teachers and principals in schools that are currently municipal. The school head should also be a government employee.
A prerequisite for state responsibility for the school’s core mission is that there is a state presence through regional school authorities. Since the county school boards were disbanded in the 1990s, there has been a lack of a regional level in the chain of command with a mandate to, in close collaboration with school leaders and teachers, support the school’s development locally.
The school authorities have therefore come a long way from schools in their efforts and have not been able to offer sufficient appropriate support. In the long term, the regional school offices should also be given increased responsibility, among other things concerning continuing education, resource allocation to different schools, planning and dimensioning of education, licensing admission, follow-up, and evaluation.
We envisage a modern organization where professional school leaders and teachers can take greater responsibility for developing and securing the quality of the business as well as the re-growth and attractiveness of the professions.
The whole of Sweden will be richer if all students get the chance to succeed in school. So, put aside special political interests and ideological sticking points and deliver the policies needed to strengthen equality.