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Anders Tegnell has said the WHO has made a ‘total misinterpretation’ of the data
Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has hit back at the World Health Organization after it included Sweden in a group of countries facing “a very significance resurgence” of coronavirus infections.
Mr Tegnell, who has in recent months become one of the world’s most high profile and divisive epidemiologists, said: “That is, unfortunately, a total misinterpretation of the data.”
“It’s very unfortunate that people lump Sweden together with countries that earlier have had no problem at all and are now apparently at the start of their epidemic,” he told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Regional Director for Europe, on Thursday named Sweden in a list of eleven problem countries, the rest of which were all in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, or Central Asia, which are facing “accelerated transmission” of infection.
“For weeks I have spoken about the risk of resurgence as countries adjust measures. In several countries across Europe, this risk has now become a reality,” Mr Kluge warned.
Sweden has this month seen the daily number of confirmed cases more than triple from 60 on June 1st to 207 on Thursday.
But Mr Tegnell argued that this has to do with increased testing rather than a resurgence in infection.
“This is growing because we recently started offering tests to everyone with symptoms,” he told Sweden’s TT newswire. “We are doing twice as many tests as we were a few weeks ago. But the growth we are seeing is in mild cases, not hospital admissions.”
Mr Tegnell has drawn both admiration and criticism internationally for leading a coronavirus strategy that left schools for 14-16 year olds open throughout the pandemic, as well as bars, restaurants, gyms, and much else, relying instead on the public’s willingness to follow social distancing guidelines.
Since April, Sweden’s death rate has pulled markedly ahead of Norway, Denmark and Finland, which all imposed much stricter lockdowns. Sweden has registered 5,280 deaths with coronavirus – more than four times the number of deaths in all the other Nordic countries put together.
Mr Tegnell has put the difference down to the failure to prevent the infection spreading in elderly care homes in Stockholm, and to the amount of travel in and out of Sweden at the end of February.
The daily number of hospital admissions and deaths was now declining steadily, Mr Tegnell told TT.
“The most stable data source is the number of new admissions to intensive care,” he said, “and there we have seen a decline since a long time back. Now it’s just a few admissions a day in Stockholm, and in a few other regions.”
Countries across Europe, including its neighbours Denmark, Norway and Finland, have refused to allow leisure travel to and from Sweden as a result of the high number of recent confirmed cases, something Mr Tegnell said made Mr Kluge’s comments even more unwelcome.
“It is certainly serious, especially in this situation where there are a lot of discussions going on about what countries people can travel to, this sort of statement is extremely unfortunate.”
“The number of admissions to intensive care is at a very low level and even deaths are starting to go down,” Mr Tegnell said.
“We are now down to a level where there are not more people dying now than during the same weeks in previous years.”
According to Sweden’s Public Health Agency, around 10 coronavirus patients a day are being admitted to intensive care units, compared with 45-50 a day in April.
In the past month, Sweden has more than doubled its Covid-19 testing and only began offering mass testing to the public last week, a delay which has been highly criticised.