Taking The Ideology Out Of Quarantines And Herd Immunity

Sweden was not driven by any libertarian ideas when it chose not to impose lockdowns. It simply opted to play a long-game when on the pandemic, for better or worse.

Stockholm on Nov. 10
Stockholm on Nov. 10
Farid Kahhat


There is a tendency to take a polar view of the strategies undertaken against COVID-19, and for some, that means seeing — and politicizing — quarantines as a Marxist-style experiment in social control. Sweden, in the meantime, is hailed as the libertarian alternative in resisting the pandemic.

But quarantines existed long before Karl Marx. They even predate Christ. In the Old Testament's Book of Leviticus, the leper is ordered to separate from others. The word itself, quarantine, was coined in 14th century Italy, ravaged at the time by the Black Death. Even New York City, global capitalism's financial capital, has implemented several quarantines since the 19th century, and it's from those experiences that we know about the kinds of social tensions a drawn-out quarantine can provoke.

This is where the Swedish model becomes relevant, although frankly, attributing the Nordic country's freestyle coronavirus response to libertarian principles is a stretch. First, the country is governed by a former trade unionist with socialist affiliations. Second, Sweden has one of the world's best welfare systems (it ranks seventh in the world in terms of social spending in proportion to GDP).

Until even a few weeks ago, the Swedish model didn't seem particularly promising.

More generally, the Swedish objective is not to safeguard freedom at any cost, as a supreme value. Nor is that country specifically aiming for herd immunity. So far, 20% of Swedes have likely caught the coronavirus — less than in Peru, which implemented a particularly strict lockdown.

The fundamental aim in Sweden, rather, was that the response strategy — assuming the pandemic would last a long time — had to be sustainable over an indefinite period. And that is why its efficacy can only be evaluated retrospectively.

Flu shot in Trelleborg, Sweden — Photo: Johan Nilsson/ZUMA

Until even a few weeks ago, the Swedish model didn't seem particularly promising. The country's mortality rate was 58.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, 10 times higher than in neighboring Finland and Norway. Nor was there any kind of compensation (if such things can be quantified) in the form of a flourishing economy. Shrinking 8.3% in the second quarter of 2020, Sweden's GDP drop was greater than those of Denmark, Finland and Norway.

The experience of Volvo, the country's signature auto producer, is telling. In March, the company suspended production in its plants in Belgium, the United States and Sweden itself. That is, it halted work in a country that had a national quarantine, in another that had imposed local lockdowns (in certain states only) and a third with no lockdown at any territorial level, though with restrictions on social gatherings, limits on some education activities and quarantines for the infected and those living with them.

We may not have all the necessary information on which policies worked best until the pandemic ends.

The example shows, on the one hand, that refusing a quarantine makes little difference if the countries where your customers and suppliers are based do impose one. It also shows that if not having a quarantine means more of your workers are infected, that too has an economic cost.

And yet, right now, with much of Europe in a second wave of infections and reimposing quarantines on angry populations, the Swedish strategy suddenly appears to be a more sustainable model. Again, it's a matter of viewing things from a more long-term perspective.

We may not have all the necessary information on which policies worked best until the pandemic ends. But we do know that a century ago, certain social distancing measures effectively fought another pandemic and were comparatively less harmful to the economy. There is, in any case, no such thing as a fixed strategy, replicable under any condition. Even Sweden has adapted its measures to changing circumstances.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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