From the beginning, the Swedish state epidemiologist has questioned the lockdowns and quarantines espoused by his counterparts in other countries. According to Tegnell, such measures did not have any basis in science.
“Closedown, lockdown, closing borders — nothing has a historical scientific basis, in my view,” he said in an interview with Nature. ”We have looked at a number of European Union countries to see whether they have published any analysis of the effects of these measures before they were started and we saw almost none.”
Criticisms of Tegnell and Sweden's approach to the pandemic have mounted – some claiming that Sweden had “no well-thought-out, well-functioning strategy” – but he remained firm, stating that measures the country had implemented “worked reasonably well so far.”
Time, however, has proven Tegnell wrong. Sweden now has more coronavirus related deaths per 100,000 people than even the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Despite this, Tegnell remains unrepentant. In a podcast with Swedish Radio on Wednesday, he characterized the lockdown measures implemented by other countries as “madness” that flew in the face of what is known about handling viral outbreaks. (Related: Is Sweden making the right choice by refusing coronavirus lockdowns?)
“It was as if the world had gone mad, and everything we had discussed was forgotten,” Tegnell said. “The cases became too many and the political pressure got too strong. And then Sweden stood there rather alone.”
To be clear, Tegnell does admit that he misjudged the potential of the coronavirus during the pandemic's early stages. However, he refuses to consider abandoning his strategy.
According to Tegnell, restricting movement to the extent seen across much of the globe created other problems, including domestic abuse, loneliness and mass unemployment.
“In the same way that all drugs have side effects, measures against a pandemic also have negative effects,” he said. “At an authority like ours, which works with a broad spectrum of public health issues, it is natural to take these aspects into account.”
Tegnell countrymen, however, seemingly no longer share his sentiment. Polls suggest that Swedes have started to lose faith in their leaders' response to the pandemic.
A recent Novus poll published by in early June by Swedish state broadcaster SVT showed that only 45 percent of Swedes have “fairly high” or “very high” faith in the country's coronavirus strategy. This represented an 18 percentage point drop from the 65 percent recorded in April.
This result actually prompted Tegnell to admit that he would have adopted a different model to contain the virus, had he known what he knows now. However, in a separate interview in Stockholm on June 3, he said that he had no regrets about his strategy and was confident that it was still “working, in broad terms.”
Tegnell admission caused members of Sweden's government to speak out. Health minister, Lena Hallengren, demanded clarity from Tegnell. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who has seen his voter approval rating slump amid concerns about the countries coronavirus policy, has promised an inquiry into the country's response to COVID-19.
Since then, Sweden's parliament has agreed to have a commission look into the government's response to the pandemic. The results of this probe are due to be published early next year, before the country's next general election.
For Tegnell, doesn't seem to be threatened by the investigation. Indeed, it seems that he's looking forward to it.
“I’m looking forward to a more serious evaluation of our work than has been made so far,” Tegnell said. “There is no way of knowing how this ends.”
His underlying argument has remained the same -- COVID-19 isn't going away any time soon, as such, sudden, severe lockdowns will ultimately prove ineffective in addressing the longer-term threat.