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Some countries are eying Sweden’s ‘light-touch’ Covid response. It’s a gamble that could backfire

Such comments have emboldened governments flirting with the idea of adopting Sweden's “light-to..

Such comments have emboldened governments flirting with the idea of adopting Sweden's "light-touch" approach, in the hope they can soften the blow to their economies. There was reason for optimism when Kim Sneppen, from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, made his comments. Sweden's infection and death rates had been low for weeks, despite a second wave rolling over Europe. It seemed to mark a turnaround for the country, which experienced one of the highest death tolls in the world per capita during the spring. The problem is, the science isn't in on whether immunity is building in Sweden at all, after the country resisted lockdowns and let the virus spread through much of its population.UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, nonetheless, announced changes to restrictions in England last week, shaping the country's Covid-19 response in the image of Sweden's. Experts in both the UK and Sweden are warning that doing so could be dangerous.The UK has been experiencing record high numbers in daily infections, yet Johnson tightened restrictions only slightly, placing more emphasis on personal responsibility to prevent viral transmission, as Swedish authorities have done. The most significant change to the rules is a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants, forcing them to close just an hour earlier than they typically did. Now only table service is allowed, to avoid people lining up at bars to order food and drinks, as is the case in Sweden.As most of the Western world went into lockdown over the spring, Sweden's response was an outlier. It only issued advice to its citizens to practice social distancing and personal hygiene. Sweden typically doesn't mix public health and politics, and it doesn't typically use the law to influence behavior to protect people's health. So it kept open its bars and restaurants, as well as schools for under-16s, as other countries had them shuttered.But even Sweden's government now admits that this likely contributed to its high death toll of more than 5,800 people in the country of around 10 million. Almost half of those deaths occurred in Sweden's care homes for the elderly.While UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has insisted that likening the UK's new measures to Sweden's is a mischaracterization, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the Prime Minister took advice from the architect of Sweden's response, Anders Tegnell, just two days before he announced his Swedish-style changes."The Prime Minister canvassed a wide variety of scientific opinions over the weekend and on Sunday he took evidence from a number of scientists, which he used to formulate the package of measures he introduced," the spokesperson said. "It was an opportunity for people to give advice freely."

Herd immunity debate resurfaces

It's too soon to declare victory in Sweden, and even officials in the country are making clear they are not out of the woods. After a deadly spring and summer, the situation in Sweden appeared under control — its infection rate is around 38 cases for every 100,000 people, EU data shows. In the UK, it's around 87 and in Spain it's 320. But there has been an uptick in Sweden in the past week, and Tegnell himself has conceded that authorities may now need to implement tighter restrictions at the local level and recommend mask-wearing in public areas, like shops, for the first time since the virus arrived — something he has spoken out against doing for months. On Thursday last week, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven described the increase in cases as "worrying."Sweden's Public Health Agency denied the country was backpedaling in its approach, saying in an email to CNN that it had always been prepared to advise the use of masks and impose restrictions in certain situations. But the recent interest in Sweden has marked a return to the debate on "herd immunity," the idea that if a certain percentage of your population is immune to a virus, the virus cannot transmit easily and will eventually die out. Scientists say that many viruses can be combated this way when 60-70% of a population is immune but that is usually achieved with a vaccine. A White House coronavirus taskforce member, Dr. Scott Atlas, has denied reports that he advocated adopting Sweden's model in the US or that he was a proponent of the "herd immunity" approach. But a senior administration official told CNN that all the policies Atlas had pushed for were in the vein of a herd immunity strategy.But research shows that even in hard-hit cities, like Stockholm, only around 15% of people tested positive to Covid-19 antibodies. In the US, less than 10% of people have tested positive, well short of herd immunity. How much proteccartion those antibodies give and for how long are also unknowns.During the pandemic, much of the talk about immunity has focused on antibodies, but researchers are also looking at T cells, which can fight a virus after infection and play a role in immunity, as well.One peer-reviewed study by researchers from Sweden's Karolinksa Institutet showed a higher than expected level of T-cell reaction in the blood samples of healthy people. They tested people with either mild or asymptomatic Covid-19, as well as healthy blood donors, as a control group.People dining in Stockholm on March 27. Sweden kept restaurants open as much of Europe went into lockdown. What was surprising was that T-cell reactions were seen in 30% of healthy blood donors who had no known history of Covid-19 infections. That's twice the rate of people who tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in Stockholm. Researchers hope that these results mean there is much more immunity in the population that previously thought. Immunologist Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, who is also from the Karolinska Institutet but did not work on the study, warned that there was no clear evidence yet that what was happening in test tubes was actually playing out in real life. In other words, no one knows for sure that having T cell reactions to the virus in your blood actually means they will help a person infected with the novel coronavirus. She also explained that even if the T cells did fight the virus, governments shouldn't allow Covid-19 to simply rip through the public in an attempt to build herd immunity. There are two reasons for that: It's not clear that past Covid-19 infections are even the reason T cells are reacting to the virus in test tubes. She pointed to another study that showed T cell reactions in 40 to 60% of samples from blood donors from 2018, long before the virus was presumably transmitted to humans for the first time.That suggests that something else — perhaps past infections of similar viruses — were causing this reaction, and possibly some immunity."There are indications that there is something that has been present in the population before this virus came along, and the question is, does it help us?" she told CNN.She explained that T cells were like "trained soldiers" that have come across a threat before and are "recalled" when it faces the same or similar threat again. "That's what's happening in test tubes — you recall the response and then react against SARS-Cov2, but if they have been trained to do that before the virus existed, they must have been trained by something else. That is why the argument is that there is most likely we have a 'cross immunity.' However, does that protect us? We have no idea." The second problem with letting the virus loose in populations is that, even if you protect the vulnerable, there could be long-term health consequences, Söderberg-Nauclér said."We know at least 10% of people are getting ill long-term, and five to six months after being infecteRead More – Source



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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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