I’m not a medical expert, and so you’ll forgive my lack of precise language when speaking about this, but I think it’s reasonable to put contagious diseases into two categories: the kind that spreads too quickly to stop and the kind that spreads slowly enough we can isolate it and have it burn out.

Back in February when I learned that the Diamond Princess cruise ship had hundreds of passengers get sick with the coronavirus, and then in March when I learned that several famous actors and athletes caught it as well (none with severe symptoms; many with no symptoms), it became clear that this illness was the sort that spread too quickly to stop. It wasn’t like the plague, it was like the common cold. Historically, quarantines have worked effective against things like the plague, but not against colds.

So when governments choose responses to outbreaks, it seems reasonable that you ought to craft the approach with the spread in view. If the thing spreads rapidly but is relatively mild, then simple caution for those who are susceptible is about the best thing you can do. But if it spreads slowly and is very deadly, then quarantines are best. Thankfully, rate of spread is usually inversely proportional to seriousness of illness (more lethal bugs kill rather than spread).

With those things in mind, and knowing this virus is a fast-spreading, mild virus, it’s absolutely astounding to me that governments around the world chose neither of the approaches above, but instead complete and total lockdowns of their entire economies. Some countries, like South Korea, had elaborate systems in place to trace contacts and they used them to isolate sick people en masse, and these seemed to work. But I argued at the time that these were fragile responses to this sort of virus because of how quickly it spread. Sweden, with its approach to get the virus to spread completely allowed them to get over the worst of it much more quickly.

For months, Sweden was mocked and Asian nations were praised. But as it turns out, my prediction came right. I must be honest at this point: having no medical expertise (but some training in statistics and probability and substantial training in logical analysis), it’s been eminently frustrating to watch professionals and experts utterly fail in assessing things that seemed obvious to me. I can only imagine they know better but have incentives to say other things. Regardless, we now know that countries which had fragile (but seemingly effective) responses are now starting to deal with the consequences:

“Hong Kong, Japan and Australia are seeing new waves of infections after relaxing Covid-19 restrictions.”

For comparison, here’s the new deaths per day. Which country would you rather live in? Does Sweden look bad now?

Unfortunately, I suspect the response these countries have to rising rates will not be reasonable self-reflection, but an even more robust form of totalitarianism. These countries are holding their breaths until they kill their whole bodies rather than coughing a few times and getting it over with.