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Coronavirus: Sweden admits it would have done more to lock down ‘if we knew what we know today’

‘There is quite obviously a potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,’ says state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell

Kate Ng
Wednesday 03 June 2020 14:19 BST
Sweden PM defends Covid-19 strategy

Sweden’s state epidemiologist, who led the country’s controversial approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, has admitted more restrictions on movement and gatherings would have helped avoid a high death toll.

Speaking to local radio station Sveriges Radio, Andre Tegnell agreed with the interviewer that too many people had died in Sweden.

The Scandinavian country now has the highest per capita death rate in the world, four times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours.

The Swedish government chose to ignore advice from countless health experts to lock the country down, and has kept things largely business-as-usual during the pandemic. Primary and secondary schools, restaurants, cafes and shops remained open and gatherings of up to 50 people were still allowed.

Officials relied on people voluntarily practising social distancing and opting to work from home, putting the responsibility not to spread the virus squarely on the shoulders of the population.

But Mr Tegnell said on Wednesday: “If we would encounter the same disease, with exactly what we know about it today, I think we would land midway between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world did.”

Previously, Mr Tegnell has defended Sweden’s approach and criticised the lockdowns imposed by other European countries, calling the closing of borders “ridiculous” and “counterproductive”.

When asked if he was satisfied with the no-lockdown strategy in an interview with science journal Nature in April, Mr Tegnell said: “Yes! We know that Covid-19 is extremely dangerous for very old people, which is of course bad. But looking at pandemics, there are much worse scenarios than this one.”

He added that the “voluntary strategy has had a real effect” as flu and winter norovirus numbers dropped this year thanks to social distancing and more frequent hand washing, and the movement of Swedes fell dramatically.

But last month, figures from the statistics office showed more Swedes died in April than in any one month for 19 years. About 90 per cent of the deaths were of people over the age of 70 and living in care homes.

On Wednesday, Mr Tegnell added: “There is quite obviously a potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden. It would be good to know exactly what to close down to better prevent the spread of the virus.”

But Lena Hallengren, the health and social affairs minister, hit back: “The government has been, at all times, prepared to introduce wider, further measures recommended by the expert authority,” she told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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