Sweden’s response to the coronavirus resulted in too many deaths and could have been improved, the country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told Swedish radio on Wednesday.
Tegnell designed a unique strategy by which the country allowed non-essential businesses to remain open, urging citizens to comply with social distancing regulations and to avoid unnecessary travel. Sweden’s death rate from coronavirus as of Wednesday sits at 443 per million of the country’s population, far higher than its Nordic neighbors Finland (58 per million) and Norway (44 per million), both of which imposed more far-reaching lockdowns of nonessential businesses.
When asked whether Sweden had seen too many deaths, Tegnell answered, “Yes, absolutely.”
“If we were to encounter the same disease again knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell said, in comments translated by the Guardian. Tegnell added that medical officials would need to learn “what else, besides what we did, you could do without imposing a total shutdown.”
Coronavirus has been particularly lethal for the elderly in Sweden, with roughly half of the country’s 4,500 deaths occurring among residents of nursing homes.
“There was no strategy at all for the elderly, I now understand,” Annike Linde, former chief epidemiologist from 2005 to 2015, told the Swedish state broadcaster last week. “I do not understand how they can stand and say the level of preparedness was good, when in fact it was lousy.”
Sweden’s relatively lax strategy was designed in part to avoid a complete shutdown of the economy. While the country’s GDP grew slightly in the first three months of the year, Swedish economists still predict an eventual economic contraction of 7 percent by the end of 2020, with 10 percent unemployment.