‘I am sceptical!’ Scientist leading Sweden’s maverick coronavirus approach criticises UK
However, in his own country, experts have admitted they are concerned by epidemiologist Dr Anders Tegnell’s approach – while Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has warned of thousands of deaths to come, with the country’s mortality rate higher than in neighbouring Denmark or Norway, where tougher measures are in place. Dr Tegnell, 63, who was educated at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is coordinating the operation, and on his advice large swathes of Sweden’s economy remain open, with citizens encouraged to control the spread of COVID-19 using social distancing and rigorous hygiene. He told The Mail on Sunday he was “disappointed” by the switch in UK strategy away from the concept of herd immunity in the wake of modelling by Imperial College suggesting if the Government stuck to its guns, 250,000 people would die.
He added: “I am very sceptical of lockdowns altogether but if you ever do them, you should do them at an early stage.
“At certain times I suppose they can be useful, if you are unprepared and need more intensive care facilities, for example, but you are really just pushing the problem ahead of you.”
Dr Tegnell insisted: “So far, what we are doing is working.
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“In a sense we are beating it, and I am confident we are doing the best we can in the circumstances.
“I still go to restaurants. We can’t kill all our services. And unemployed people are a great threat to public health.”
Dr Tegnell hit the headlines after he defended his decision to enforce mass vaccination of the population in the wake of the swine flu outbreak of 2009, which resulted in 500 children and adults developing narcolepsy, particularly his remark that “it is very difficult to weigh 400 children with narcolepsy against about 100 deaths”.
Sweden currently had 6,443 confirmed cases, with 373 deaths, as of yesterday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.
The figures are a tenth of the UK’s – although Sweden is widely acknowledged to be a fortnight behind Britain in terms of the disease’s evolution.
And the death rate in 36 per million people, compared with 29 in Denmark and nine in Norway, where stricter rules are being enforced.
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Other scientists have also been critical of Sweden’s strategy, with Prof Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, a virus expert at the Karolinska Institute, saying: “We’re not testing enough, we’re not tracking, we’re not isolating enough – we’ve let the virus loose. They are leading us to catastrophe.”
Claudia Hanson, a Stockholm-based senior lecturer in global public health, added: “They are used to making evidence-based decisions, but that doesn’t work for a pandemic like this, where key coordinates are unknown.”
In an interview with the country’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper, Mr Lofven suggested tougher rules were in the pipeline, saying: “We will count the dead in the thousands.”
Prof Tegnell’s comments echo those of Graham Medley, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at LSHTM, who yesterday said: “This disease is so nasty that we had to suppress it completely.
“Then we’ve kind of painted ourselves into a corner, because then the question will be what do we do now?
“We will have done three weeks of this lockdown so there’s a big decision coming up on April 13.
“In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?”
Prof Medley’s remarks in turn prompted Dr Rupert Beale, of the Cell Biology of Infection Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute, to warn: “It would be profoundly unhelpful to characterise this crisis as a competition between the young and the old.
“Clearly the social distancing measures introduced by the Government are absolutely necessary.
“If the NHS is overwhelmed we will be unable to deliver effective care, including to children.”
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