Sweden got it wrong on herd immunity and failed to adequately prepare for the second wave of coronavirus, the country’s former chief epidemiologist claims.
Annika Linde has criticised her successor, Anders Tegnell, amid a sharp rise in infections, including a record 5,990 confirmed new cases on Friday, and hospital admissions surging at the fastest rate in Europe.
She claims “wishful thinking” led Tegnell and his team to wrongly to believe that herd immunity would protect the country from another wave of Covid-19 this autumn.
Sweden’s soft-touch approach and no-lockdown strategy has divided opinion, especially as other European countries imposed national lockdowns, but in recent weeks it has imposed tighter local restrictions to curb the rapid spread of the virus.
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Linde, who was Sweden’s state epidemiologist until Tegnell took over in 2013, claims the Public Health Agency has been reluctant to plan for the worst throughout the pandemic.
She told The Telegraph: “Wishful thinking – when you don’t believe in the worst scenario – has been guiding Swedish decisions too much.
“The Swedish authorities have been slow all the time. Instead of being proactive, they’ve run after the virus, and the virus has been able to spread too much before they take action.”
Sweden has reported 177,355 cases of Covid-19 and 6,164 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The number of new cases is rising by as much as 50 per cent every week.
While Sweden’s death rate per capita is lower than in countries such as Spain and Britain, it is more than 10 times higher than neighbouring Norway and almost five times higher than in Denmark.
In May, Tegnell predicted Sweden would have a “high level of immunity” and a low number of cases during a second wave.
By mid-summer, he attributed a sharp drop in cases to the development of a herd immunity against the virus during the first wave.
As a result, he said, Sweden would have an easier time controlling the virus than its neighbours, which had imposed lockdowns.
That prediction was wrong, and Tegnell admitted on Thursday that Sweden’s immunity is lower than previously thought and the country of 10 million people is fighting a second wave.
He said last week: “It is a different situation than we had in the spring when it was more local.
“Now we have a community spread in many regions at the same time, which is partly a reason why we see such high numbers.”
Despite the situation, he said Sweden remains steadfast in its strategy of voluntary measures and no lockdowns.
Tegnell told Reuters on Friday: “We will keep on this path. This is how we work in Sweden.
“We have big understanding for this and a huge adherence to the rules.”
Referring to Tegnell’s immunity prediction, Linde said: “I hoped he was right. It would have been great. But he wasn’t.”
The Public Health Agency has imposed stricter restrictions in 17 of 21 of Sweden’s regions, as well as a 10pm curfew on bars.
While other countries go into large-scale shutdowns, Sweden has kept schools, restaurants and other businesses open throughout the pandemic.
It has focused on voluntary measures aimed at promoting social distancing and good hygiene, such as working from home if possible, avoiding public transport and crowded indoor activities.
Tegnell has received praise for the approach, but he has even received death threats from people accusing him of pursuing a reckless policy.