Sweden’s controversial coronavirus plan has come under the spotlight once again after emails of the nation’s chief epidemiologist indicated he was exploring options to shorten its route to herd immunity.
The Scandinavian country’s approach during the pandemic has continuously sparked controversy after health authorities opted against stringent lockdown measures, instead shielding the vulnerable and focusing on social distancing.
Under the guidance of the country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, they believed a lockdown where businesses would close would have minimal effect.
In emails accessed by a Swedish journalist under freedom of information laws, Dr Tegnell appeared to ask if an increased risk to the elderly was worth keeping schools open.
“One point would be to keep schools open to reach herd immunity faster,” he said in March, sharing one suggestion from a retired doctor to his health department colleagues and his Finnish counterpart, Mika Salminen.
Yet Professor Salminen said it would fail to protect other age groups, saying “the children will still spread the infection”. He adds that his Finnish modelling shows school closures would see the spread to the elderly drop by about 10 per cent.
Dr Tegnell replied: “10 per cent might be worth it?”
Sections of the Swedish public reacted angrily to the revelation, especially after Dr Tegnell previously announced the country wasn’t pursuing herd immunity and was ultimately trying to slow the spread of the virus.
One Facebook user labelled Dr Tegnell’s ideology as “socially dangerous”.
“Our government chose a completely different path and sacrifices thousands of Swedes lives along the way,” she said.
“These emails are so frightening,” another said.
Many others defended the Dr Tegnell’s rationale, insisting he acted in the best interests of the country.
Months later Tegnell said it was not herd immunity that was the reason why the Swedish Public Health Agency chose to keep the schools open.
“My comment was on a possible effect not on an expected one that was part of the assessment of the appropriateness of the measure,” Dr Tegnell told Sweden’s Expressen last week.
“Keeping schools open to gain immunity was therefore never relevant.”
Most deaths in 150 years
While Dr Tegnell has admitted too many people in Sweden have died, he said the nation would opt for the same strategy again if they had the choice.
Sweden opted to keep schools open for those aged 16 and younger.
One area where Sweden suffered was the aged-care sector, a similar problem that has since arisen in Melbourne and has prompted an inquiry from the Swedish Government.
There have so far been 5,802 deaths in the country, with daily deaths slowly decreasing to single-digit numbers after a sudden spike in late March, which peaked at 115 daily deaths on April 8.
The Statistics Office said on Wednesday Sweden had recorded its highest tally of deaths in the first half of 2020 for 150 years.
In total, 51,405 Swedes died in the January to June period, a higher number than any year since 1869 when 55,431 died, partly as a result of a famine.
The population of Sweden was about 4.1 million then, compared to 10.3 million now.
Sweden is now consistently recording daily cases in the low hundreds.
While initial modelling suggested about 40 per cent of the population of Sweden’s capital Stockholm would have achieved herd immunity by May, research suggests that could be as low as 15 per cent.
And while Sweden’s approach has managed to save its economy in comparison to other countries, Finland’s has outperformed its larger neighbour in the second quarter, despite a tougher lockdown.
Finland's gross domestic product shrank about 5 per cent against an 8.6 per cent contraction in Sweden from the previous three-month period.
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