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Sweden’s Covid-19 expert comes under fire

Sweden’s Covid-19 expert Anders Tegnell has come under fire for appearing to ask whether a higher death rate in elderly people was a fair price to pay for herd immunity. 

Email exchanges obtained by journalists in Sweden under freedom of information laws appear to show the country’s coronavirus strategist discussing the option of keeping schools open to encourage herd immunity in mid-March.

One conversation was with Tegnell’s Finnish counterpart, Mika Salminen, in what Swedish journalists say appears to be a brainstorming of methods to tackle the pandemic. 

The newly-released emails which date back five months have caused a stir in Sweden and have fuelled criticism of the country’s no-lockdown approach to the pandemic. 

‘One point would be to keep schools open to reach herd immunity faster,’ Tegnell said, to which Salminen emailed back that Finnish health agency had considered this but rejected it because ‘over time, the children are still going to spread the infection’ to other age groups. 

Finland’s modelling suggested closing schools would reduce the spread of Covid-19 among elderly people by about 10%, Salminen said. 

Tegnell responded: ‘10% might be worth it?’ 

The newly-released emails which date back five months have caused a stir in Sweden, where many have interpreted them as suggesting Tegnell wanted to keep schools open to encourage herd immunity.   

Sweden has insisted schools remain open for children younger than sixteen, although Tegnell has denied this decision was aimed at speeding up the goal of herd immunity. 

‘My comment was on a possible effect, not on an expected one, that was part of the assessment of the appropriateness of the measure,’ he told Swedish journalist Emanuel Karlsten. 

‘Keeping schools open to gain immunity was therefore never relevant.’ 

The Covid-19 strategist has repeatedly insisted that the government’s aim was not to fast-track herd immunity but to slow the spread of Covid-19 enough so that health services do not become overwhelmed.  

Fuelling further speculation about Tegnell’s intentions, Swedish daily paper Aftonbladet reported that he had appeared to have deleted several requested emails in a batch of more than 200 spanning from January to April. 

Sweden, which never imposed a national lockdown, claimed herd immunity would protect its population.

This tactic would have meant so many people contracting and becoming resistant to Covid that it would no longer spread.

Only 15 per cent of the population in Stockholm, the capital, have been infected so far, according to antibody testing.

Some 60 per cent would be needed to acquire herd immunity. 

As of Monday, Sweden has recorded a total of 85,045 coronavirus cases and 5,787 deaths. 

The country’s case and death numbers have fallen steadily since June. Despite this, the number of cases are relatively high compared to other European countries and it has recorded significantly higher figures than its Nordic neighbours. 

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