Sweden's epidemiologist says 'world went mad' imposing coronavirus lockdowns

Dr Anders Tegnell said he advised against restrictions on movement because of the detrimental side effects they often entail. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

STOCKHOLM (BLOOMBERG) - The man behind Sweden's controversial Covid-19 strategy has characterised lockdowns imposed across much of the globe as a form of "madness" that flies in the face of what is known about handling viral outbreaks.

Dr Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, said he advised against such restrictions on movement because of the detrimental side effects they often entail.

"It was as if the world had gone mad, and everything we had discussed was forgotten," Dr Tegnell said in a podcast with Swedish Radio on Wednesday (June 24). "The cases became too many and the political pressure got too strong. And then Sweden stood there rather alone."

Dr Tegnell admits he misjudged the deadly potential of the coronavirus in its early stages, but has refused to consider abandoning his strategy. He says restricting movement to the radical extent seen across much of the globe can create other problems, including increased domestic abuse, loneliness and mass unemployment.

"In the same way that all drugs have side effects, measures against a pandemic also have negative effects," he said. "At an authority like ours, which works with a broad spectrum of public health issues, it is natural to take these aspects into account."

But Sweden now has one of the world's highest Covid-19 mortality rates, with more deaths per 100,000 than the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Polls suggest Swedes have started to lose faith in their country's response to the pandemic.

Instead of shuttering schools, shops and restaurants, Sweden left pretty much everything open. Citizens were encouraged to observe social distancing guidelines, but the strategy assumed Swedes would voluntarily alter their behaviour without the need for laws.

Dr Tegnell also advised against using face masks, arguing there's little scientific evidence they work. And he says it's clear that closing down schools was an unnecessary response to the pandemic, a notion that's actually supported in a recent French study.

Dr Tegnell's underlying argument is that Covid-19 isn't going away any time soon, meaning sudden, severe lockdowns will ultimately prove ineffective in addressing the longer-term threat.

Meanwhile, the virus has recently resurfaced in a number of places where the authorities thought they'd brought it under control, including Beijing.

"I'm looking forward to a more serious evaluation of our work than has been made so far," Dr Tegnell said. "There is no way of knowing how this ends."

Sweden's Parliament has agreed to have a commission probe the government's response to the Covid-19 crisis. The results of the investigation are due to be published in early 2022, before the next general election.

Recent polls show that Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who heads a minority centre-left coalition, has seen his voter approval ratings slump amid concerns about the country's Covid-19 policy.

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