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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 crippling economic 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 its economy is intact 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.
He 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.
Southern US states, Brazil and India are also seeing soaring case numbers currently – which leaders in those countries have also blamed on increased testing.
Tegnell pointed to a steady fall in deaths, hospital admissions and ICU admissions as evidence that Sweden’s outbreak is actually retreating, not getting worse.
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
Deaths vs death rate per million: This graph shows the total number of coronavirus deaths in the country along the vertical axis, with the USA at the top, versus the number of deaths per million along the bottom axis, with Belgium the worst-hit and Sweden in fifth
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 still behind Belgium, the UK, Spain and Italy – all of which went into full lockdown
These are the 11 European countries that the WHO warns are experiencing a ‘resurgence’, with Sweden recording the second-highest case total today
It comes after WHO Europe director Hans Henri Kluge warned in a press conference on Thursday of 11 European countries were at risk of seeing their healthcare systems overwhelmed by a surge in infections.
WHO’s list of 11 European countries seeing a ‘resurgence’
- North Macedonia
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 after their lockdowns end.
This is not the first time Tegnell has been forced to defend his lockdown-free strategy, which has caused unrest at home.
Polls show that Swedes are rapidly losing faith in the government’s strategy, with confidence in politicians and the public health body collapsing.
In a survey this week, just 38 per cent said they approved of the government’s actions during the pandemic, versus 50 per cent in May.
A particular cause for concern is the high number of deaths in Sweden, particularly in care homes which have been hard hit.
In terms of deaths per million people, Sweden is one of the worst-affected countries 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
Globally, coronavirus cases have been soaring – with more than 180,000 reported today. But deaths have remained largely flat. That has led to claims that the pandemic is easing, and increased testing is behind the apparent surge
Having once topped the board, it now sits in fifth place – behind Belgium, 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
Are doctors getting better at treating Covid-19? Britain’s coronavirus death rate in hospitals has FALLEN to a quarter of level it was during peak of the crisis
The risk of dying from coronavirus after being hospitalised has plummeted since the peak of the outbreak, suggesting doctors are getting better at treating it.
Analysis by Oxford University shows that 6 per cent of people admitted to hospitals in England with the virus died at the beginning of April.
But the figures show by June 15, just 1.5 per cent of Covid-19 patients were dying of the disease – a quarter of the level at the peak of the crisis.
Oxford statisticians can’t pin down exactly why survival rates have fallen so much – but they believe doctors may be becoming better at treating the virus.
Analysis by Oxford University shows that 6 per cent of people admitted to hospitals in England with the virus died at the beginning of April. But the figures show that by June 15, just 1.5 per cent of Covid-19 patients were falling victim to the disease – a quarter of the level at the peak
In April there was no approved medicine to treat Covid-19, a disease still shrouded in mystery after jumping from animals to humans at the end of 2019.
But now the NHS now has two drugs at its disposal to treat critically-ill patients – the Ebola medicine remdesivir and anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone.
Dexamethasone, a £5 steroid that has existed for decades, was the first drug proven to reduce the death rate among hospitalised patients needing oxygen.
The evidence around remdesivir is more mixed but studies have shown it helps the most critically ill people who need ventilation.
There is probably also be fewer people catching the coronavirus in hospital than at the peak of the crisis, which may have contributed to the fall in death rates.
Hospital patients are inherently more likely to be already unwell or elderly and so are more likely to die if they do catch it.
Of 10,387 people in hospital in England with Covid-19 on April 2, 644 died, giving a death rate of 6 per cent.
On June 15, 50 out of 3,270 hospital patients fell victim to the disease, which works out at roughly 1.5 per cent.
The researchers considered whether those being admitted to hospital were younger, and so more likely to survive.
But the data showed there are actually now more deaths over the age of 60 than at the peak in early April.
Jason Oke, from the University of Oxford, was one of the statisticians behind the UK analysis.
He told The Times that he was initially uneasy about releasing the analysis, adding: ‘We sat on it. We had a good discussion about it to try and work out all the different ways we could be wrong.
‘Then we thought we should put it out there — it’s what we’ve observed. The caveat is, we don’t really understand why this is happening. But it’s happening.’
King’s College London ‘s COVID Symptom Tracker app estimates that just 2,341 Britons are being struck down with the coronavirus every day. Last week they used this data to estimate that there were 3,612 people catching the virus every day in Britain and roughly 4,942 people the week before that. The figure was higher than 11,000 per day a month ago
Other hard-hit countries, including the US and Italy are seeing similar trends in their death rates.
Dr Oke admitted the newly-approved drugs may be partly behind the fall, but he said there would be other factors at play.
He warned a less optimistic explanation may be that a large number of mild to moderately ill patients were turned away from hospitals in April.
He said: ‘Maybe early on the pandemic, when we thought we would be overrun, we took only the severest cases.’
If only the sickest patients – who are more likely to die from Covid – were being treated, then this could skew the death rate upwards, even if there was no difference in the actual survival rate.