March 16, 2023 - 1:00pm

One of Norway’s leading epidemiologists has claimed that criticism of Sweden’s Covid strategy was excessive. Preben Aavitsland, who served as Director for Surveillance at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, argued that other countries “hid their own insecurities by scolding Sweden” because the country “undermined their mantra that we had no choice”.

In comments made to Swedish paper SvD, Aavitsland explained that while Norway’s “harder line” may have prolonged the lives of old people, he added that the model of “long, hard lockdowns” that was inspired by Italy and China made Sweden “the contrast they did not want”. Sweden “forced them to explain to their citizens why they acted as they did,” the epidemiologist explained. “For these people, it would have been better if everyone had done the same”.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Sweden largely avoided implementing mandatory lockdowns, instead relying on voluntary curbs on social gatherings, and keeping most schools, restaurants, bars and businesses open. This made Sweden an outlier, turning the country’s then-chief state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell into a hate figure, as he received death threats and urges to resign throughout the pandemic. This month, he told his successor to “have ice in your stomach”.

Despite avoiding strict lockdowns, SvD claims that Sweden’s excess mortality was the lowest out of all EU nations, including Nordic countries. While this claim is disputed, numerous studies have shown Sweden’s excess death rate to be among the lowest in Europe. Figures by the World Health Organisation, for example, show that in 2020 and 2021, the country had an average excess death rate of 56 per 100,000 — compared to 109 in the UK, 111 in Spain, 116 in Germany and 133 in Italy.

But Aavitsland stressed that a pandemic response could not be judged on excess deaths alone. “We also have to look at how people’s physical and mental health has been affected, school results and drop-outs, unemployment and social economy and other things,” he said. He went on to compliment the Swedish Public Health Agency’s communication over Norway’s, saying that it created less fear. “They gave more advice than threatened punishment,” the epidemiologist noted.

Fear may have been one reason as to why there were so few protests from the Norwegian population, which surprised Aavitsland. He said that it was “almost a little scary” what the population “accepts without protesting”. “We forbade families to visit their grandmother in the nursing home, we denied men attendance at their children’s births, we limited the number who were allowed to attend church at funerals,” he said. “Maybe people are willing to accept very strong restrictions if the fear is great enough”.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.