Sweden should have done more to fight the coronavirus, the epidemiologist behind a national strategy that avoided the strict blockades seen in many other countries said on Wednesday.
Anders Tegnell’s comments followed mounting criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis and a policy that has relied heavily on voluntary action, social distancing and common sense hygiene advice, but has not managed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Sweden has a lower COVID-19 death rate than European countries such as Britain, Spain, and Italy, which imposed strict blockades.
But, with 443 deaths per million people, it has the eighth highest number of coronavirus-related deaths per capita in the world, and had the highest COVID-19 death rate in Europe during some parts of May, according to the group. Ourworldindata.org.
“Yes, I think we could have done better than we did in Sweden, clearly,” Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency, told Swedish radio.
“If we were to encounter the same disease, knowing exactly what we know today, I think we would end up doing something between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” he said.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who promised an investigation into the management of the pandemic, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren responded.
“The government has, at all times, been prepared to introduce broader measures recommended by the expert authority,” Hallengren said in a written response to Reuters.
Lofven told the Aftonbladet newspaper that the overall strategy of limiting the disease while protecting workers and companies had been the right one.
“At the same time, we have to admit that when it comes to elder care and the spread of infection, that has not worked. That is obvious,” he said. “Too many older people have died here.”
Most of Europe closed schools, shops, and businesses, stopping much of society. Sweden closed visitor care homes in late March, but about half of its coronavirus-related deaths occurred among older people living in care facilities.
Recent antibody tests have also indicated that the number of people infected in Sweden is less than in the models of the Public Health Agency and that the so-called collective immunity may be further than expected.
Tegnell said it was difficult to know what measures taken elsewhere might have been the most effective in Sweden.
“Perhaps we will discover this now that people have started to eliminate measures, one at a time,” he said. “And then maybe we will get some kind of information about what, in addition to what we did, we could do without taking a total block.”
The government has come under fire for failing to hit the 100,000 tests per week target, hitting only a third of that last week.
Bjorn Olsen, a professor of infectious medicine at Uppsala University, said Sweden’s strategy had been catastrophic.
“This is one of Sweden’s biggest shame and tragic events, (in) all categories,” he said, calling for a change of course to start testing and doing more contact tracing. “As long as people die, we must try to change.”
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