Sweden’s top virus expert has said the ‘world went mad’ with coronavirus lockdowns which ‘fly in the face of what is known about handling virus pandemics’.
Anders Tegnell, who advised Sweden to avoid full lockdown in favour of a ‘herd immunity’ strategy, said world leaders caved to political pressure amid panic – and that the long-term downsides of lockdown will far outweigh the benefits.
Sweden has confirmed 68,390 cases of coronavirus and 5,230 deaths – far above its Nordic neighbours, but has avoided the economic destruction caused by lockdown and actually posted slight growth in the first quarter of this year.
Tegnell also hit out at the WHO after it placed Sweden on a list of 11 countries seeing a ‘dangerous resurgence’ in the virus, saying it had ‘totally misinterpreted’ the data.
Sweden has seen seen its daily coronavirus case totals spike in recent weeks, leading the WHO to warn it is seeing a ‘resurgence’ of the disease
But the country’s virus expert Anders Tegnell said the WHO had ‘totally misinterpreted’ the data, saying the ‘spike’ is down to improved testing and pointing to falling deaths as evidence
Tegnell said a ‘surge’ in cases over the last week is actually the result of more testing, meaning mild cases that previously went undetected are now being counted.
WHO’s list of 11 European countries seeing a ‘resurgence’
- North Macedonia
He pointed to a steady fall in deaths, hospital admissions and ICU admissions as evidence that Sweden’s outbreak is actually retreating, not getting worse.
It comes after WHO Europe director Hans Henri Kluge warned in a press conference on Thursday of 11 European countries that had seen a ‘dangerous resurgence’ in the virus, meaning healthcare systems could soon be overwhelmed.
The WHO later revealed Sweden was on that list, alongside Armenia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Kosovo.
Tegnell said: ‘It’s a total misunderstanding, I would say.
‘They have looked at the number of cases per day and it has increased steeply over the past week.
‘This is entirely due to extended testing and that we find more mild cases. We see no evidence at all that our epidemic in Sweden is getting worse – on the contrary.
‘It is unfortunate that people are confusing Sweden with countries that have not previously had problems, which are obviously in the beginning. Sweden is nearing the end.’
Asked why the WHO had misinterpreted the data, Tegnell said no official had been in contact with Swedish authorities – meaning they missed the nuances.
He added that being included on the list could cause problems for Sweden, especially as countries decide where to allow their citizens to travel.
Speaking in a separate interview on Wednesday, Tegnell again defended his decision to avoid lockdown – saying it will do little to mitigate the long-term effects of the virus, since effective treatment is still a long way off.
This is not the first time Tegnell has been forced to defend his strategy, which has caused unrest at home with polls showing that Swedes believe too many have died.
Putting pressure on him is data which shows Sweden has one of the highest death rates anywhere in the world.
Tegnell (left) said Hans Henri Kluge, the WHO’s Europe chief, ‘got it wrong’ because he had not spoken to anyone in Sweden before making his announcement
Sweden has come under fire for its strategy because it has one of the highest death rates per million anywhere in the world, though is behind the UK, Spain and Italy – all of which went into full lockdown
Having once topped the board, the country now sits in fourth place – behind Britain, Spain and Italy, all of which did go into full lockdown.
Tegnell has since agreed that he underestimated how deadly the disease would be initially, and said last month that he would now have used harsher measures.
But he has continued to insist that full lockdowns do more harm than good.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned last week that the world is entering a ‘dangerous new phase’ of coronavirus, as global cases topped 150,000 in a single day.
Since then they have risen further, and are now routinely above 180,000 per day.
The spike comes as many countries, including those in Europe and the US, ease out of lockdowns which kept case-counts low.
While critics have pointed to a loosening of the rules for the rise in cases, others – including US President Donald Trump – say improved testing is actually the cause.
Like Tegnell, they have pointed to the fact that deaths are continuing to fall even as cases rise as evidence.
However, the picture is further complicated by the fact that deaths often lag behind a rise in cases – taking two to three weeks to show in the data.
Many countries have only recently exited lockdowns, meaning a spike in deaths – if it is coming – is several weeks away.
Tegnell was the man behind Sweden’s decision not to go into lockdown, in favour of social distancing and a ‘herd immunity’ strategy