Top epidemiologist admits he was wrong about Sweden’s COVID-19 strategy

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The top Swedish epidemiologist has admitted that his COVID-19 strategy has resulted in too many deaths, after persuading his country to avoid a strict lock-in.

“If we were to experience the same disease with the same knowledge that we have today, I think our answer would be somewhere between what Sweden has done and what the rest of the world has done,” said Anders Tegnell in an interview on Swedish radio. .

Tegnell is the mastermind of Sweden’s controversial approach to fighting the virus, and Stefan Lofven’s government referred to the epidemiologist in his official response to the pandemic. Gatherings of more than 50 people continue to be banned, but throughout the crisis, Swedes were able to visit restaurants, shop, go to the gym and send children under the age of 16 to school.

The lax approach to containing the virus has garnered both praise and condemnation around the world. What is beyond debate, however, is the effect the strategy has had on the death toll in the country.

With 43 deaths per 100,000, Sweden’s death rate is among the highest in the world and far exceeds that of neighboring Denmark and Norway, which imposed much more severe restrictions at the start of the pandemic.

“Obviously, there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,” said Tegnell.

These comments seemed to frustrate some members of the government. Swedish Minister of Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren said that Tegnell “still cannot give an exact answer on the other measures which should have been taken. This question remains, I think, “said the minister, according to Dagens Nyheter.

Falling behind

Tegnell had previously argued that the long-term nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires a more lasting response than the severe and sudden blockages. Despite criticism from abroad, Tegnell’s strategy has received wide support in Sweden.

But with many other countries in the European Union now canceling their blockages after appearing to have mastered COVID-19, there are signs that Sweden may be left behind. This includes the freedom of movement of its citizens, as some EU countries restrict access to people from what are considered to be high-risk COVID areas.

Furthermore, there is limited evidence to date that Sweden’s decision to leave much of its open society will support the economy. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson recently warned that Sweden is facing its worst economic crisis since World War II, with GDP down 7% in 2020, about as much as the rest of the EU.

A sign assures people that a bar is open during the coronavirus epidemic outside a pub in Stockholm, Sweden, March 26, 2020.


/ Photo taken on March 26, 2018 / REUTERS / Colm Fulton

The government has started to worry about the apparent missteps taken to combat the spread of the virus in Sweden. Lofven promised Monday that there will be an investigation into the treatment of the crisis before the summer.

Some legislators in the Swedish Parliament were quick to intervene. Jimmie Akesson, the head of the Swedish anti-immigration Democrats, tweeted that Tegnell’s comments were “amazing”.

“For months, the critics were systematically rejected. Sweden did everything right, the rest of the world did it wrong. And now, suddenly, that, “said Akesson.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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