LONDON - Ever since the coronavirus emerged in Europe, Sweden has captured international attention by conducting an unorthodox, open-air experiment. It has allowed the world to examine what happens in a pandemic when a government allows life to carry on largely unhindered.
This is what has happened: Not only have thousands more people died than in neighbouring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden's economy has fared little better.
"They literally gained nothing," said Dr Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. "It's a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains."
The results of Sweden's experience are relevant well beyond Scandinavian shores. In the United States, where the virus is spreading with alarming speed, many states have - at President Donald Trump's urging - avoided lockdowns or lifted them prematurely on the assumption that this would foster economic revival, allowing people to return to workplaces, shops and restaurants.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson - previously hospitalised with Covid-19 - reopened pubs and restaurants last weekend in a bid to restore normal economic life.
Implicit in these approaches is the assumption that governments must balance saving lives against the imperative to spare jobs, with the extra health risks of rolling back social distancing potentially justified by a resulting boost to prosperity.
But Sweden's grim result - more death and nearly equal economic damage - suggests that the supposed choice between lives and pay cheques is a false one: A failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.
Sweden put stock in the sensibility of its people as it largely avoided imposing government prohibitions. The government allowed restaurants, gyms, shops, playgrounds and most schools to remain open. By contrast, Denmark and Norway opted for strict quarantines, banning large groups and locking down shops and restaurants.
More than three months later, the coronavirus is blamed for 5,420 deaths in Sweden, according to the World Health Organisation. That might not sound especially horrendous compared with the more than 129,000 Americans who have died. But Sweden is a country of only 10 million people. Per million people, Sweden has suffered 40 per cent more deaths than the US, 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland and six times more than Denmark.
The elevated death toll resulting from Sweden's approach has been clear for many weeks. What is only now emerging is how Sweden, despite letting its economy run unimpeded, has still suffered business-destroying, prosperity-diminishing damage and at nearly the same magnitude of its neighbours.
Sweden's central bank expects its economy to contract by 4.5 per cent this year, a revision from a previously expected gain of 1.3 per cent. The unemployment rate jumped to 9 per cent in May from 7.1 per cent in March.
"The overall damage to the economy means the recovery will be protracted, with unemployment remaining elevated," Oxford Economics concluded in a recent research note.
This is more or less how damage caused by the pandemic has played out in Denmark, where the central bank expects that the economy will shrink 4.1 per cent this year and where joblessness has edged up to 5.6 per cent in May from 4.1 per cent in March.
In short, Sweden suffered a vastly higher death rate while failing to collect on the expected economic gains.
The coronavirus does not stop at national borders. Despite the government's decision to allow the domestic economy to roll on, Swedish businesses are stuck with the same conditions that produced recession everywhere else. And Swedish people responded to the fear of the virus by limiting their shopping - not enough to prevent elevated deaths but enough to produce a decline in business activity.
Here is one takeaway with potentially universal import: It is simplistic to portray government actions such as quarantines as the cause of economic damage. The real culprit is the virus itself. From Asia to Europe to the Americas, the risks of the pandemic have disrupted businesses while prompting people to avoid shopping malls and restaurants, regardless of official policy.
Sweden is exposed to the vagaries of global trade. Once the pandemic was unleashed, it was certain to suffer the economic consequences, said Dr Kirkegaard, the economist.
"The Swedish manufacturing sector shut down when everyone else shut down because of the supply chain situation," he said. "This was entirely predictable."
What remained in the government's sphere of influence was how many people would die.
"There is just no questioning and no willingness from the Swedish government to really change tack, until it's too late," Dr Kirkegaard said. "Which is astonishing, given that it's been clear for quite some time that the economic gains that they claim to have gotten from this are just nonexistent."
Norway, on the other hand, was not only quick to impose an aggressive lockdown, but early to relax it as the virus slowed, and as the government ramped up testing. It is now expected to see a more rapid economic turnaround. Norway's central bank predicts that its mainland economy - excluding the turbulent oil and gas sector - will contract by 3.9 per cent this year. That amounts to a marked improvement over the 5.5 per cent decline expected in the midst of the lockdown.
Sweden's laissez faire approach does appear to have minimised the economic damage compared with its neighbours in the first three months of the year, according to an assessment by the International Monetary Fund. But that effect has worn off as the force of the pandemic has swept through the global economy, and as Swedish consumers have voluntarily curbed their shopping anyway.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen gained access to credit data from Danske Bank, one of the largest in Scandinavia. They studied spending patterns from mid-March, when Denmark put the clamps on the economy, to early April. The pandemic prompted Danes to reduce their spending 29 per cent in that period, the study concluded. During the same weeks, consumers in Sweden - where freedom reigned - reduced their spending 25 per cent.
Strikingly, older people - those over 70 - reduced their spending more in Sweden than in Denmark, perhaps concerned that the business-as-usual circumstances made going out especially risky.
Collectively, Scandinavian consumers are expected to continue spending far more robustly than in the US, said Mr Thomas Harr, global head of research at Danske Bank, emphasising those nations' generous social safety nets, including national healthcare systems.
Americans, by contrast, tend to rely on their jobs for healthcare, making them more cautious about their health and their spending during the pandemic, knowing that hospitalisation can be a gateway to financial calamity.
"It's very much about the welfare state," Mr Harr said of Scandinavian countries. "You're not as concerned about catching the virus, because you know that, if you do, the state is paying for healthcare."
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON - Many US colleges were scrambling on Tuesday (July 7) to modify plans for the fall semester in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic a day after the Trump administration issued an order that could force tens of thousands of foreign students to leave the country if their schools hold all classes online.
The announcement blindsided academic institutions grappling with the logistical challenges of safely resuming classes, particularly after the federal government had granted exceptions to the rules limiting online learning for foreign students when colleges and universities in March rushed to shutter campuses and move to online classes as the pandemic forced lockdowns.
There are more than a million foreign students at US colleges and universities, and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students, who often pay full tuition.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said institutions moving entirely to online learning must submit plans to the agency by July 15. Schools that will use only in-person learning, shortened or delayed classes, or a blend of in-person and online learning must submit plans by Aug 1.
The guidance applies to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which are for academic and vocational students.
During a roundtable in Washington on reopening schools, President Donald Trump criticised a decision by Harvard University to conduct courses online in the coming academic year.
"I think it's ridiculous, I think it's an easy way out," Mr Trump said. "I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves."
The chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, Dr Nancy Cantor, said in a statement on Tuesday that the school, along with other colleges across the country and lawmakers in Congress, was working to "to fully understand and respond to this announcement".
In the 2018/19 school year Rutgers had nearly 7,000 international students enrolled, according to data published by the Institute of International Education.
Dr Cantor tried to assure foreign students the university's model for the fall would be a hybrid of online and in-person classes. Most students attending schools with that type of blended curriculum, as well as those with full-time in-person instruction, would be exempt from the new rules if their plans are approved by ICE.
Dr Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University in New York, called the administration's actions "deeply misguided" and said the university would take a number of steps in response, including structuring courses so they fit into the hybrid model.
"Together, these changes mark a devastating reversal of federal policy announced at the onset of the pandemic," Dr Bollinger said.
Mr Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, told CNN on Tuesday that the new rules would "encourage schools to reopen". Business and conservative groups have urged reopening schools safely as important to getting parents back to work and reviving the US economy.
The US is experiencing a new surge in coronavirus cases, especially among younger people, raising concerns about the increased risk of spread to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff if in-person classes resume.
In a survey by the newspaper the Chronicle of Higher Education of hundreds of colleges around the country, the majority said they will offer either in-person instruction or some sort of hybrid model with on-campus and online courses. But many are still sorting out their plans.
Ms Toni Molle, director of public affairs for California State University, which bills itself as the nation's largest four-year public university, with 23 campuses across California, said the institution was reviewing the new guidance to determine the impact on students.
Some schools - including Harvard University - have said they would offer online-only classes, which could create problems for their international students, and may now have to alter their plans.
Harvard President Larry Bacow said the institution was"deeply concerned" that the ICE guidance imposed "a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach".
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese students, who comprise the seventh-largest group of international students in the US, could soon be forced to leave the country after a Trump administration ban on fully online instruction was imposed.
On Monday evening (July 6), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that degree-seeking international students at American universities could be forced to leave the country or face deportation if their colleges move to entirely online courses. The move could affect up to 1 million foreign students, including over 20,000 Taiwanese.
In a press release issued on Monday, ICE stated that students with nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 visas attending U.S. universities "may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States." It stated that students actively enrolled in such programs "must depart the country or take other measures," such as transferring to schools with face-to-face classes, or "face immigration consequences."
Based on data from the Institute of International Education (IIE), there were 1,095,299 international students in the U.S. during the 2018/19 academic year. According to the IIE's 2019 Open Doors Report, the largest group of students came from China, numbering 369,548, or 33.7 percent of the total.
India came in second, with South Korea, Saudia Arabia, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, and Brazil rounding out the top nine. In the 2018/19 academic year, a total of 23,369 Taiwanese citizens were studying at U.S. universities, an increase of 4.1 percent over the previous year.
One way to avoid the deportation mentioned in the ICE announcement is to transfer to a school that provides "in-person instruction to remain in lawful status." The agency also stated that students who attend schools that have adopted a hybrid model would also be exempt if the school can certify the program is not entirely online and that the student is taking the "minimum number of online classes required to make normal progress in their degree program."
The move by Trump appears to be part of his efforts to step up anti-immigration measures before the November presidential election. The policy is also in line with his aim to keep schools fully open, which he is using as a campaign issue.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Ministry of National Defense (MND) released a video Tuesday night (July 7) in which it said that training is the daily routine of the country's armed forces, whose every exercise is a sign of combat strength, and that the military "doesn’t mess around."
Enoch Wu (吳怡農), deputy CEO of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) think tank the New Frontier Foundation, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that Taiwan's annual Han Kuang military exercise is just a "performance." His contentious statement sparked much public discussion, with Wu later pointing out in an interview that although everyone has a different opinion on the matter, all Taiwanese hope the military will never cease to improve.
When President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was asked to comment on Wu's remarks, she said that they were not fair. She pointed out that in recent years, the planning of the exercises has become much more sophisticated and they have grown in scale.
The Han Kuang exercise is a vital component of the nation’s military training, Tsai said, adding that Taiwanese should support the armed forces because they are defending the country.
The MND released a video Tuesday night that depicted soldiers during routine training. It emphasized that the military has never “put on a show,” as every drop of blood and sweat shed during training is to defend national security.
The defense ministry stated it will prove to Taiwanese that the military will advance courageously with conviction and sophisticated combat power to defend the country. At the same time, the ministry said the armed forces need the support of the public so that they have high enough morale to jointly resist the enemy.
The 36th Han Kuang exercise will be held from July 13 to 17 and will feature joint battalions and live-fire drills.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Members of the public in Taiwan are cautioned against letting their guard down amid a mitigated coronavirus threat as influenza cases surge, alarming medical experts.
Pai Yung-chia (白永嘉), an emergency room doctor at the Hsinchu MacKay Memorial Hospital, shared his worries about the recent surge in influenza cases in a Facebook post on Tuesday (July 7). Expressing concern about the rise of patients contracting the flu and those developing fever, he urged people to stay vigilant by putting on face masks in crowded spaces and to wash hands frequently.
His view was echoed by another medical worker, Facebook user Emily Wu, who commented that the hospital where she works is receiving complaints about the still rigorous controls in place over the rules for visiting the sick. People were upset about the “trouble” the hospital has caused given the loosening of many disease prevention restrictions at the national level, she said.
Taiwan has gone 85 days without local infections as of July 7, with the caseload standing at 449. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 virus remains a potent threat as a resurgence of outbreaks is reported worldwide. Globally, confirmed cases have surpassed 11 million as of July 7, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) called for a revisiting of the country's reopening measures at a city executive meeting, reported UDN. Over the past month, the city in central Taiwan has seen the number of people placed under quarantine soar to 1,811, topping the whole country and creating a burden on health and civil agencies, she noted.
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late on Monday (July 6) that the United States is “certainly looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok.
“I don’t want to get out in front of the President (Donald Trump), but it’s something we’re looking at,” Pompeo said in an interview with reporters.
US lawmakers have raised national security concerns over TikTok’s handling of user data, saying they were worried about Chinese laws requiring domestic companies “to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party”.
The app, which is not available in China, has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience and has emphasised its independence from China.
Pompeo’s remarks also come amid increasing US-China tensions over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak, China’s actions in Hong Kong and a nearly two-year trade war.
TikTok, a short-form video app owned by China-based ByteDance, was recently banned in India along with 58 other Chinese apps after a border clash between India and China.
Reporters reported late on Monday that TikTok would exit the Hong Kong market within days, deciding to do so after China’s establishment of a sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city.
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday (July 6) he had undergone another test for the novel coronavirus and his lungs were “clean”, after local media reported he had symptoms associated with the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the impact of the virus, even as Brazil has suffered one of the world’s worst outbreaks, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and 65,000 related deaths, according to official data on Monday.
CNN Brasil and newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported that he had symptoms of the disease, such as a fever.
Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential palace that he had just visited the hospital and been tested.
“I can’t get very close,” he said in comments recorded by Foco do Brasil, a pro-government YouTube channel. “I came from the hospital. I underwent a lung scan. The lung’s clean.”
The president’s office said in a statement that the president is at his home and is “in good health”.
The right-wing populist has often defied local guidelines to wear a mask in public, even after a judge ordered him to do so in late June.
On Saturday, Bolsonaro published photos on social media in which he is seen without a face mask at a lunch with the US ambassador and several ministers celebrating the July 4th holiday.
Since he was in a private residence, he did not break the new law - but that didn't spare him from an avalanche of criticism on social media for not setting a good example.
The US embassy in Brasilia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bolsonaro tested negative for the coronavirus after several aides were diagnosed following a visit to US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate in March.
CNN Brasil reported that Bolsonaro has begun taking the drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which he touts as a Covid-19 treatment despite little proof of their effectiveness. Bolsonaro’s official events on Tuesday have been cancelled, according to CNN Brasil.
On Monday, the far-right leader made more changes to weaken a law requiring that face masks be worn in public places in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
He had already watered down the Bill last Friday by vetoing several articles, including ones requiring employers to supply face masks for their staff and another mandating that public authorities should provide face coverings for "economically vulnerable people".
Now he has also vetoed articles requiring masks be worn in prisons and another obliging businesses to provide information on how to wear masks properly.
Some states have already made the wearing of masks mandatory, but this was the first such law on a national level.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Defense Minister Yen Te-fa (嚴德發) said at a Ministry of National Defense (MND) internal meeting on Monday (July 6) that the military will not stop drills or lower its training standards in the wake of the recent marine training accident.
The Navy was conducting a joint landing operation on July 3 when a rubber boat carrying seven marines capsized near Taoziyuan Beach in Kaohsiung's Zuoying District.
Yen presided over an MND internal meeting in which he led officials in a moment of silence and shared his thoughts on the tragic mishap. He emphasized that the military will never stop training or lower its training standards just because there are risks, Liberty Times reported.
Yen noted that following the unfortunate incident, the public has begun reassessing the military’s training and curriculum. However, he remarked that it is difficult to recreate actual battlefield conditions and that there is a certain degree of risk involved even in peacetime training — only through rigorous training can the enemy be defeated in future wars, he added.
Yen stated that the two soldiers who were killed — Staff Sergeant Chen Chih-cheng (陳志榮) and Lance Corporal Tsai Po-yu (蔡博宇) — were not only heroes of the Marine Corps but also of the entire armed forces and the country. Regardless of rank, the responsibilities and missions of every soldier are equally worthy of respect, the defense minister said.
Yen also called on all soldiers to do their utmost in the upcoming 36th Han Kuang exercise so that the sacrifices of the country’s martyrs will not have been in vain. He also said that this incident should not lead to a blame game but instead be an opportunity to find out the cause so as to avoid future training accidents.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is set to implement a volcano warning system by the end of this year that covers the Tatun volcanoes (大屯火山群) in the north and Turtle Island (龜山島, Guishan Island) off the northeast coast.
The mechanism involves three alert levels and their accompanying lights. Green (grade zero) suggests normal activity, yellow (grade 1) indicates a volcano in the restive state, and red (grade 2) means a volcanic eruption is expected or already occurring, according to the Central Weather Bureau (CWB).
The Tatun volcano group, in Taipei City, and the volcanic island of Turtle Island, under the jurisdiction of Yilan County, are the focus of the monitoring system.
While there has been no eruption incident recorded over the past centuries in Taiwan, scientists believe the possibility of an eruption of the Tatun Volcanoes cannot be ruled out, wrote CNA. Observations of the Tatun volcano group, part of which sits in Yangmingshan National Park, also point to geothermal activity and the possible existence of a magma chamber lying beneath, which could be about the size of a quarter of Taipei, according to an Academia Sinica study last year.
The National Fire Agency and the governments of Taipei, New Taipei, Keelung, and Yilan — areas likely to be affected by the volcanoes — will be required to draft their own emergency response plans, including evacuation arrangements, in the event of a volcanic eruption.
The issuance of volcano alerts will hinge upon data compiled by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Central Weather Bureau, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Central Geological Survey. Factors such as tectonic plate and ground surface movements, fumarolic activity, and groundwater temperature will be taken into account for a forecast of an imminent eruption.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A special charter flight to return Indian citizens home will take off on Sunday (July 12), while those wishing to leave India and fly to Taiwan can board the plane's return leg.
On Monday (July 6), the Facebook group Indians in Taiwan announced that the deadline for payment for Indian nationals wishing to board a charter flight from Taipei to Delhi is Tuesday (July 7). Taiwan's national carrier China Airlines has confirmed that the flight will depart for Delhi on Sunday at 7:35 a.m. and arrive at 11:50 a.m.
Tickets will be issued by Friendship Travel Service Company Limited. Interested parties are requested to book their tickets by Sunday, but only those who have registered with the India-Taipei Association (ITA) will be allowed to book tickets.
Those who have not yet registered with the ITA must register on the ITA website. After filling out the registration form, passengers need to contact Friendship Travel Service to purchase tickets, which cost NT$45,000 (US$1,528) each, by Tuesday at the latest.
This flight is believed to be the last chance for Indian citizens living in Taiwan to return to their country until at least August.
As for those who hold a Taiwan alien resident certificate (ARC) or ID and wish to evacuate from India to Taiwan, the same charter jet will return to Taipei after it drops off Indian passengers in Delhi. They can find out more information by contacting one of the following email addresses: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tickets will be issued by Friendship Travel Service Company Limited, and those interested in traveling have to register on the TECC google form by 10 p.m. IST tonight. The form will be passed to the travel agent.
After completing the registration form, passengers need to immediately contact Friendship Travel Service and pay NT$50,000 to 60,000, depending on the class, by Tuesday.
The following is the contact information for Friendship Travel Agency in various cities in Taiwan:
ITA office (Address: Suite 1708, No. 333, Section 1, Keelung Road, Taipei, Taiwan -11012)
Friendship Travel Agency (Address: 1F., No. 282, Sec. 3, Taiwan Blvd., Xitun Dist., Taichung City
Contact person: Vivian Lin; 04-23116888
Friendship Travel Agency (Address 6F., No. 88, Sec. 1, Fuqian Road, West Central Dist., Tainan City
Contact person: Lilian Hu;06-2269121
Friendship Travel Agency (Address 8F., No. 11, Datong 2nd Road, Qianjin Dist., Kaohsiung City
Contact person: Wan Shu Chen;07-2414191