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Sweden’s controversial coronavirus plan caused “too many deaths,” admits top scientist

The architect of Sweden’s controversial strategy for dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic has admitted that the country should have placed stricter restrictions. Anders Tegnell, the country’s state epidemiologist, made the admission during an interview with Swedish radio, where he also said that his strategy resulted in too many deaths.

“If we would encounter the same disease, with exactly what we know about it today, I think we would land midway between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world did,” he added.

Tegnell is the brains behind the country’s lighter approach to the coronavirus. While the government has banned gatherings larger than 50 people and called for social distancing, it still allowed businesses and schools to reopen. His recent admission is striking, as he had criticized countries that have placed lockdowns, insisting that Sweden’s approach is more sustainable.

“Closing borders, in my opinion, is ridiculous, because COVID-19 is in every European country now. We have more concerns about movements inside Sweden,” he told Nature in an April interview.

In the interview, the country’s top scientist had a more pensive tone as he admitted that his strategy had room for improvement. Given the speed at which the virus has overtaken Europe, Tegnell noted that mapping an effective plan to deal with the coronavirus was difficult at best.

“It would be good to know exactly what to close down to better prevent the spread of the virus,” he added.

Still, there are parts of Sweden’s policy that other countries have praised, including pushing for public cooperation when enforcing social distancing, moving to keep its borders open to European visitors and keeping schools for under 16s open. (Related: Is Sweden making the right choice by refusing coronavirus lockdowns?)

In a later press conference, Tegnell maintained that the country will stick to its strategy, insisting that it is still good, despite the challenges it has faced.

“We still think that the strategy is good, but you can always make improvements, especially when looking back,” Tegnell said. “I personally think it would be rather strange if anyone answered anything else to such a question. You can always do things better.”

Tegnell draws flak over admission

The chief epidemiologist’s comments, however, have drawn ire from members of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s cabinet, which has deferred to Tegnell in its official response to the pandemic. Lana Hallengren, the country’s minister for health and social affairs, said that the country’s top infections disease expert has not provided measures to head off deaths, especially among older adults.

The government’s lighter approach to the lockdown has enjoyed widespread support in Sweden. In response to mounting international criticism, Tegnell has insisted that his strategy is a more sustainable response compared to a sweeping cordon sanitaire, which other countries have implemented.

However, experts have noted that Sweden’s approach may leave the country lagging behind its neighbors, most of whom have already come out of their lockdowns and have begun to restart their economy. In fact, Norway, which shares most of its eastern border with Sweden, and Denmark have decided to close their borders, citing the country’s high death rate. To note, Sweden’s death per capita is 10 times more than that of Norway, according to late May figures.

In addition, there’s little evidence to back up Sweden’s claim that imposing a more relaxed lockdown will keep the country’s economy afloat. According to Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, the country is looking at its worst economic crunch since World War II, with the GDP set to contract by 7 percent by the end of the fiscal year – similar to other EU countries.

In a statement made earlier this week, Lofven said that his government would launch an inquiry into the handling of the crisis before the summer. Currently, Sweden has

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