The chief architect behind Sweden’s anti-lockdown strategy believes his country may have fended off a second wave of the virus by being consistent with its rules.
Sweden’s leading epidemiologist Dr Anders Tegnell believes Stockholm’s resolve and refusal to change its lockdown measures may have helped prevent a second wave of the virus.
He said: ‘I think the main difference between Sweden and many other countries is that we have had the same kind of restrictions and recommendations in place the whole time.
‘And we have a really big adherence from the population to those recommendations.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden speaks during a news conference updating on the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) situation yesterday
‘And that makes a difference, that makes us hopefully less susceptible to a second wave.’
Unlike most countries, Sweden shunned a mandatory national lockdown against the pandemic, instead calling for personal responsibility, social distancing and good hygiene to slow rather than eradicate a disease seen as here to stay.
In stark opposition to the rest of Europe, primary and lower secondary schools stayed open, as did bars, restaurants and sports clubs.
Dr Tegnell, who has been leading the country’s response to the virus, said the restrictions had to remain as lax as possible for them to be adhered to over a long period of time, the Sun reported.
He added: ‘Maybe we’ll have the same experience in a few weeks’ time [a second wave], we’ll see, but as I said, I think the big difference is that Spain had a strict lockdown and then opened up again, and then you do get back to quite a lot spread of disease.’
Yesterday it was announced that Boris Johnson was briefed by Tegnell before he announced a raft of new restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Johnson’s new restrictions — which include pubs shutting at 10pm, office staff working from home where possible and retail staff wearing face masks — have been criticised by some sections of the scientific community for ‘not going far enough’.
Sweden’s strategy emphasising personal responsibility rather than major lockdowns to slow the virus drew fierce criticism as deaths shot up in spring. Critics warned that letting the virus spread through the entire population would lead to hundreds of thousands of avoidable fatalities.
But lockdown critics have since argued Sweden’s approach was best. Statistics show it has suffered fewer Covid-19 deaths than Britain since the pandemic began, with 580 fatalities for every 100,000 people, compared to the rate of 620 in the UK.
Experts have suggested the country’s outbreak could even be ‘over’ because it has yet to suffer a second wave, unlike the UK, France and Spain. But Professor Tegnell this week claimed that ministers are considering a brief ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to stem a surge in coronavirus in Stockholm, the capital.
The country’s prime minister has raised concerns over a worrying rise in cases in certain areas of the country.
Though still with a COVID-19 caseload much lower than in many other European countries, Sweden has recorded a gradual rise in new infections in recent weeks. On Thursday 533 new ones were reported, the highest daily number since early July.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Swedes had recently become too relaxed about heeding anti-COVID guidelines.
‘In Sweden, the situation is comparatively…stable, but we also see signs that the number of infections is increasing in certain areas in our country. That’s worrying,’ he told a news conference.
‘The caution that existed in the spring has more and more been replaced by hugs and parties, bus trips in rush-hour traffic, and an everyday life that, for many, seems to return to normal.
People walk on Stranvagen in Stockholm on September 19, 2020, during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic
‘What we do right now, we will be glad of later. What we do wrong now, we will suffer for later,’ Lofven added.
He urged Swedes to adhere to social distancing and good hygiene standards, warning the government was ready to introduce stricter measures if needed to curb the spread of the virus.
‘Unfortunately, we are seeing a small upturn in Sweden,’ Tegnell told reporters yesterday.
‘It is moving slowly but surely in the wrong direction, something we talked about that could happen in the autumn when we returned to workplaces.’
Sweden reported two new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the total to 5,878 since the start of the pandemic.
That toll is many times more per capita than in its Nordic neighbours, but also well below countries like Spain and the UK that opted for hard national lockdowns.
The government also said on Thursday it had decided to extend a loan guarantee scheme for small and mid-sized businesses until the end of the year