Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and the architect of Sweden’s relaxed approach to the novel coronavirus has admitted from his current vantage point, he would have done things differently.
Sweden's chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell says the country should have done more to combat the spread of COVID-19 as the country’s death toll continues to climb.
As the man behind the Public Health Agency's pandemic strategy, Mr Tegnell and the Swedish government drew international headlines by not enforcing strict lockdowns and relying on citizens to practice non-enforced social distancing.
Now he says there was “quite obviously a potential for improvement in what we have done”.
More than 4,540 Swedes have died in the outbreak, as of Thursday AEST, a much higher mortality rate than in neighbouring Denmark, Norway and Finland.
Criticism has been growing over the government's decision not to impose lockdown measures as strictly as elsewhere in Europe, and much of the world.
“If we were to run into the same disease, knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would end up doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Mr Tegnell told Swedish radio.
“Yes, I think we could have done better in what we did in Sweden, clearly.”
Compared to Sweden’s death toll of 4,542, surrounding nations Denmark, Norway and Finland, albeit with smaller populations, have 580, 237 and 321 COVID-19 deaths, respectively.
According to mortality analysis by Johns Hopkins University, Sweden has the fifth highest coronavirus deaths per capita behind Belgium, the UK, Italy and Spain, and is on par with France.
The first case of COVID-19 in Sweden was reported 123 days ago on the final day of January. However unlike most hard-hit countries, the number of known cases hasn’t peaked and begun to decline yet.
Sweden’s relaxed approach has flattened the curve, but has not yet produced a decline in new daily cases.
While most of Europe – including Denmark, Norway and Finland – closed schools, shops and businesses, bringing much of society to a halt, Sweden has relied more on voluntary measures, social distancing and common-sense hygiene advice to stem the outbreak.
It shut care homes to visitors in late March, but around half of the deaths in the country have been among elderly people living in care facilities.
Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg said last week her country’s strict lockdown may have been taking things too far.
Mr Tegnell said it was hard to know which measures taken elsewhere might have been the most effective in Sweden.
“Maybe we will find this out now that people have started removing measures, one at a time," he said.
"And then maybe we will get some kind of information on what, in addition to what we did, we could do without adopting a total lockdown.”
Amid the growing criticism of Sweden’s handling of the pandemic, the country’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a newspaper interview he would be establishing an inquiry into the virus response.
Mr Lofven had previously said a commission would be appointed once the crisis was over, but was under pressure to act sooner.
"We need to take an overall approach to see how it has worked at national, regional and local levels," he told Swedish daily Aftonbladet.
"We will make a decision for a commission before the summer.”
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