And despite official denials by Dr Anders Tegnell and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, insiders have insisted there is a split between the government and the Public Health Agency with Dr Tegnell spearheads on the issue. As State Epidemiologist of Sweden, Dr Tegnell was handed the responsiblity of developing his country’s strategy earlier this year.
That’s about as clear a refutation of Tegnell’s strategy as you could wish for
However, his approach – which involved far fewer restrictions than many other countries, including neighbours Norway, with many businesses and shops remaining open – appears to have backfired.
Dr Tegnell repeatedly denied he was an advocate of herd immunity – but argued that by resisting the temptation to impose a full lockdown, Sweden would neverthless emerge from the Spring with higher levels of immunity which would ensure a lighter second wave.
However, with Winter approaching, 630 deaths so far registered as a result of Covid-19 in Sweden this month, representing a death rate per capita ten times that of Norway, where just 30 deaths were recorded between October 28 and November 25.
Dr Anders Tegnell has been sidelined according to insiders
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven
In a move viewed within the country as indicative of growing unease at his methods, Dr Tegnell’s biweekly press conference on Thursday was pushed into the background by another briefing delivered by Mr Lofven, who announced new modelling prepared by the Public Health Agency.
Nicholas Aylott, an associate politics professor at Stockholm’s Sodertorn University, told the Sunday Telegraph: “There’s certainly a split, and I’m pretty sure that many in the government have rather lost faith in the Public Health Agency.
“By some counts, we’ve now got exactly the same level of spread of the virus that we had in the spring, and that’s about as clear a refutation of Tegnell’s strategy as you could wish for.”
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Dr Anders Tegell and health minister Lena Hallengren
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is predicting death rates in Sweden to surpass the peak witnessed in April, with between 100 and 140 people projected to die of the virus each day by next month.
Ewa Stenberg, a political commentator who works for Sweden newspaper Dagens Nyheter newspaper, said the agency had been damaged by its apparent failure.
She said: “There is criticism against the Public Health Agency in the government because of that, and because of their lack of stringency in their advice to people.”
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Customers outside a cafe in Sweden in the Spring
Consultant Louise Sameby with a newly admitted patient at the intensive care unit at Ostra Hospital in Gothenburg,
Consequently the Government itself has begun to impose restrictions including a ban on alcohol sales after 10pm and reducing the maximum number of people permitted to gather in public to eight.
Shaken by the worsening situation, Sweden’s government has started to itself take the initiative, imposing a ban on alcohol sales after 10pm and reducing the maximum allowed public gathering to eight people – a measure Lofven described as having “no equivalent in modern times”.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Tegnell said: “All rumours about a rift between the government and the agency are completely false.
Covid stats worldwide
“We have a continuous very strong dialogue and a strong level of trust between us.”
Mr Lofven told Expressen newspaper: “There is no rift whatsoever.
“I imagine there sometimes might be a temptation in media to portray conflicts. But here there is none.”
However, their claims have been greeted with considerable scepticism, with the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper running the headline: “The split grows: how Tegnell lost his veto.”
Dr Anders Tegnell masterminded Sweden’s coronavirus strategy
An article in Expressen suggested increasing levels of pessimism within the Government, with one unnamed civil servant predicting the pandemic would now continue for years.
Mr Tegnell has not been without his critics domestically, many of whom have been pilloried or reprimanded, Nele Brusselaers, a clinical epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute, told Science magazine last month.
She added: “It has been so, so surreal – even though we are saying just what researchers internationally are saying.
“It’s like it’s a different universe.”