Sweden's chief epidemiologist 'not convinced' country's relaxed approach to coronavirus is right decision

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Expert says country is prepared to 'be humble' and change course if necessary

World | The Independent

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist has admitted he is “not convinced” his country’s strategy of dealing with coronavirus without introducing a strict lockdown is the right decision.

The Swedish government has been an outlier in Europe by keeping most restaurants, bars and schools open during the Covid-19 pandemic, while neighbouring countries have implemented strict measures to restrict movement and social contact.

In an interview with the newspaper Aftonbladet, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said health officials were constantly reviewing evidence on the effectiveness of the strategy.

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“I'm not convinced at all. We are constantly thinking about this… What can we do better and what else can we add on?” Mr Tegnell said.

“I think the most important thing all the time is to try to do it as well as you can, with the knowledge we have and the tools you have in place. And to be humble all the time because you may have to change.”

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The country has primarily relied on voluntary measures to fight Covid-19, with Swedes asked to keep distance from each other, work from home where possible and avoid travel.

Stefan Lofven, the Swedish prime minister, said last week he was “confident” that the overall strategy was working, despite some scientists accusing the government of running a dangerous experiment on people’s lives.

“One reason that we have chosen this strategy, and where we have supported the agencies, is that all measures have to be sustainable over time,” he said.

Sweden’s outbreak has so far killed 2,669 people, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, which puts the country’s death toll at a much higher number compared to neighbouring countries Norway and Finland, where strict measures have been introduced.

However, Sweden has seen a much lower number of deaths than France, Spain, Italy and the UK, where lockdowns have been used.

Although it is not clear why the country’s death rate is lower, it has been suggested that the country has avoided a higher number of deaths because its population is more spread out, with more than half of homes being single-person households, according to 2016 figures from the EU.

The voluntary measures may have also been more effective due to high levels of trust in government among the Swedish population – with 72 per cent trusting their government, compared to an EU average of 40 per cent.

Sweden’s strategy has focussed on slowing the spread of Covid-19 enough to allow the healthcare system to cope, while keeping society and the economy functioning as much as possible.

It is a plan that has received cautious backing from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in recent days.

“If we are to reach a 'new normal', in many ways Sweden represents a future model,” Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, said on Wednesday.

“What it has done differently is that it really, really has trusted its own communities to implement that physical distancing.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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