Scientist defends Sweden’s hotly debated virus strategy

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist on Wednesday defended his country’s controversial coronavirus strategy, which avoided a lockdown but resulted in one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world.

Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency denied that “the Swedish strategy was wrong and should be changed. That’s not the case”.

“We still believe that our strategy is good, but there is always room for improvement. You can always get better at this job,” Tegnell told a news conference in Stockholm.

Sweden has stood out among European nations and the world for the way it has handled the pandemic, not shutting down the country or the economy like other nations but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty. Swedish authorities have advised people to practise social distancing, but schools, and restaurants have been kept open the entire time. Only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.

Tegnell’s statement to reporters came after more contrite comments earlier in the day to Swedish radio in which he said “I think there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden, quite clearly.”

Asked if the country’s high death toll has made him reconsider his unique approach to the pandemic, Tegnell told Swedish Radio (SR) “yes, absolutely.”

According to the national health agency, Sweden, a nation of 10.2 million people, has seen 4,542 deaths linked to COVID-19, which is far more than its Nordic neighbours and one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. Denmark has had 580 coronavirus deaths, Finland has seen 320 and Norway has had 237, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

“If we were to encounter the same disease again, knowing precisely what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell, considered the architect of the unique Swedish pandemic approach, told SR.