by UnHerd
Thursday, 23
September 2021
Video
15:00

Anders Tegnell: Sweden won the argument on Covid

The state epidemiologist told Freddie Sayers he was right on the key questions
by UnHerd


Of all the celebrities that have been created during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is perhaps the most surprising. A softly-spoken official within the Swedish Health Agency, he has quietly been going about his work monitoring infectious diseases for years.

But his decision, when Covid hit, to stick to his long-established plan and not recommend mandatory lockdowns, not close the schools, turned him into a lightning rod for competing views on the pandemic. Endless articles have been written about him in media across the world and some Swedes are known to have had tattoos made of him.


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UnHerd spoke to him back in July 2020, when he defended the lack of mask mandates and was hopeful that widespread immunity would protect the Swedes from a bad winter wave — a hope that turned out to be overly optimistic. “Judge me in a year,” he said.

Just over a year later, on the eve of Sweden releasing almost all of its remaining Covid restrictions on September 29th, Freddie Sayers spoke to him again. His message? On the big questions — whether Covid was something we had to live with, whether schools should be shut — he believes he has been vindicated.

As ever, many thanks to Anders for taking the time.

On vaccinations:

I think the big change, since we talked last time, is really the vaccinations. There, we really found the tool that’s going to make the difference. And all the other things we have tried are not going to be very important anymore, because reaching and achieving a high vaccination level is the one way we can get out of this pandemic. There does not seem to be any other way, really.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

On winning the main argument:

I think we tried to argue from fairly early on that this is a disease we have to learn to live with… And more and more countries are taking that position, because even with a fantastic vaccine, we can control it, but we cannot eradicate it… We have to accept a certain level of spread in the society. We probably have to accept there’s going to be a few cases in our hospitals, with Covid-19 in the foreseeable future, just like we are accepting a few cases of flu or a few cases of many diseases that we cannot control completely.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

Denmark has declared that Covid is no longer a ‘critical threat’. Will Sweden be doing the same?

It definitely has the potential to be a critical threat again. So I think we have to be extremely vigilant, we have to really follow the development, and not least on the local level, so that we find these outbreaks. We can then contact trace and test people very quickly so we don’t get new, big outbreaks in different parts of the country.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

On the coming winter:

I really do believe that we’re going to have a much easier winter than last winter. Because really, 95, 96% of the people that got badly hurt last winter, they are now vaccinated, and they have good protection. And I think we have every reason to believe that that protection will last through the winter. There might be groups that need another shot; we have plenty of vaccines and resources around that we can give them that so we can keep on protecting them if the need arises. So yes, we’re going to have spread of the disease during the winter; we’re definitely going to see a few cases that are going to need hospital care… So it’s going to be, I think, a time to understand, to learn what Covid-19 is going to be in the long run for society and for our healthcare, so that we can adapt to that in a good way.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

But didn’t the same optimism turn out to be misplaced last time?

The potential to spread was bigger than we expected. I agree. But lots of Nordic countries got a lot worse hit with it. I mean, if you look at excess mortality, for example, Sweden did not fare very badly at all, maybe four or five from the bottom in the European Union. But there was definitely a need of a much higher level of immunity in a population that can only really shift by vaccination to control this disease in any reasonable manner. That’s definitely true — we didn’t see that.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

Why did Sweden act differently to other countries?

That was the tradition, it could be done voluntarily, and people are also listening to that because there is a high level of both respect and trust between the population and the government and the agencies. That’s why we could get quite a lot of impact on doing things on a voluntary basis. I think that’s one aspect.

The other aspect is that the legal system we have in place, forces us to focus on areas where we really can see that there is a high level of threat, so to speak, where there is a high risk of transmission. And that’s why we moved into regulating restaurants very strongly, and left other portions of society more open. Because we could see spread in the restaurants, but we couldn’t see a lot of disease spreading by young people playing football or things like that. We definitely didn’t see a lot of spread in the schools.

- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

On being proud of keeping schools open:                                                                                          

When you ask Swedish children, they have definitely been affected by the pandemic, but to a lot lesser degree than children would have been if we had closed the schools. And I think a lot of countries also have followed on that, which I think is very good. And if you look at the global level, the United Nations and many others point to children being out of school being one of the main disasters that this pandemic has created.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

A less divided country:

When I read different articles and so on, it has been reasonably peaceful in Sweden. We haven’t had a huge divide like in the United States and other places. So if you should put the mask on or not — the politicians have been fairly much in agreement with that we are doing, even if there is the usual criticism of the government… I mean, some people think we’re doing stupid things. Many of them think this is fantastic, but when I walk in the streets, it’s only thumbs up.
- Anders Tegnell, UnHerd

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Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

Thumbs up and thanks to Andres Tegnell for steering Sweden in the precisely the manner we failed on. During the early part of the past year, he was only one of the few voices I could agree with. It kept me sane.

Besides Covid being an extra bit of a threat to the elderly and health compromised , it is a major threat to the obese . Look at the shape of the occupants of this country, at any mixed crowded place, you will know, why the western governments got so spooked. It was not the disease itself that was so “deadly”, it was the shape of the population. And so it is in the rest of the west and even in India. The most tragic & preventable deaths were ones with the large girths. But this is not rocket science, nor does it need numbers and charts to explain.

Perhaps Swedes are healthier because an individuals health is his/her responsibility. They seem to understand it and risen to accept that challenge. Hence the outcome has been better. Can our government give us that freedom? Are we mature enough to know what that means? According to the government -perhaps not.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alka Hughes-Hallett
Zaph Mann
Zaph Mann
1 year ago

Alka, do you (or does anyone else) have data on this – I have thought the same but haven’t found any proof. The “underlying health issues” that accompany most people who suffer or die with Sars-Covid-2 are myriad. At sites like the CDC the list is endless, no where have I found an actual breakdown to anything useful like obesity level, blood type, immune health etc..

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Zaph Mann

Here’s a link to one meta study of association between age, sex, various comorbities with covid mortality.
https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/512592#top

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

As others have said, Anders Tegnell has been a beacon of common sense during the pandemic.
For me, here is his key comment on how Sweden could implement its approach to the pandemic: “and people are also listening to that because there is a high level of both respect and trust between the population and the government and the agencies.
So many western countries are now profoundly divided. The trust Anders Tegnell refers to barely existed before the pandemic and has now been pretty much destroyed. We are now likely to be censored if we suggest there are distinct advantages to having a largely homogeneous population with a shared sense of values and history–but it’s true.
The vaccine sceptics won’t like his statement that “achieving a high vaccination level is the one way we can get out of this pandemic. There does not seem to be any other way, really.” But I think he’s correct. I’m more inclined to be guided by Tegnell’s opinion than by all the pronouncements emanating from the WHO or Sage committees.
Anyway, much respect to you, Mr. Tegnell. I hope history treats you well.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

However there was no talk of the fast waning efficacy of the vaccines…

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago

Just how fast? He probably doesn’t know, and if he doesn’t I’m pretty sure you don’t either. He did mention the probable need for a booster dose at some point for the most vulnerable in society. Or would it be better to give everyone a booster dose in the next 1-3 months and then another booster dose in the Spring?

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
1 year ago

you mean the gene therapy used as a vast experiment on the world population?

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
1 year ago

Is the booster shot supposed to be the end of it?

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Absolutely agree. A beacon of sanity in a mad world, and above all someone who relishes uincertainty and debate rather than adopting a dogmatic position which is what concerns me most on both sides of the argument.

Matt B
Matt B
1 year ago

A brave man, and who wouldn’t want to have heard his honest, undogmatic and well-intentioned argument when so much remained unknown? Resilience of society depends on response diversity, meaning openness to debate and adaptive learning. Each country has its specificity but in Sweden’s context, and perhaps of far wider relevance, it seems he was more on the money than many and seems to have saved Sweden at least a lot of pain and financial loss.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt B
Philip L
Philip L
1 year ago

Anders should get commission. As well as being one of the world’s last remaining calm and level-headed public servants, his interview with Freddie was one of the reasons I coughed up the subscription fees.

David Slade
David Slade
1 year ago

One of the true beacons of common sense; rationality and – ultimately – compassion.

If only we had such men advising our government instead of the monomaniacal technocrats we got (did we get what we deserved for being so compliant? That’s a depressing thought I have to ask myself).

In any case, I hope the Whitty’s; Valances and Ferguson’s of this world take note. Maybe if we forego their inevitable honours from the Queen and instead award one to Anders Tegnell (who cares if he’s not British), it’ll hammer the message home.

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been living in Stockholm over the last 18 months and have watched and listened to most of his and his colleagues’ press briefings. Not once can I remember him having problems in answering the questions and assertions fielded at him by both Swedish and foreign journalists at these briefings. With the support of Johan Giesecke, he and his department basically kept to the pandemic management rule book when all others were throwing it out of the window. Their previous experience of epidemics and pandemics in global environments over the last 30 years has stood them in good stead to handle the situation.
We in Sweden have a lot to be grateful to the Public Health Authority (and to the govt. for trusting and implementing the measures) for providing a reasonable level of normality in our daily lives, whilst observing the horrific measures adopted in my home country and other countries in Europe.

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen archer

Do you think the ‘gene therapy’ is going to keep Sweden healthy?

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  Lloyd Byler

Probably in the short term. I’m no fan of the vaccine and specifically the mRNA variant although the AZ one which I had (for being able to travel) is probably no safer. What I will say is that if the vaccines had not been produced then Sweden’s strategy would have been even more desirable for other blinded countries. From the start Sweden’s strategy was long term, possibly years, in terms of being sustainable and minimising disruption to society and business as much as possible, and importantly keeping the kids in school. The shops, restaurants and golf courses never closed.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
1 year ago

You can’t tell, looking at Swedish mortality statistics, that they had Covid in 2020. And that falsifies the claim that covid is unusually lethal, and that authoritarian lockdown measures were necessary and effective. My essay here: https://richardlyon.substack.com/p/sweden-1-faith-0

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

The title is VERY clickbait-y. The spirit of what he said was hardly so self congratulatory.

Matt B
Matt B
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

You’re rignt. Unherd’s headline editor needs to be a little Less Herd. Let a good story tell itself.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt B
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Look at it this way… if Anders Tegnell won the 100m at the World Championships, he would still sit in his drab room with the potted plants talking in a soft, measured voice about how it was not just his effort but the government’s effort. It wouldn’t even really have been a competition.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Hahahaha, well said 😉

Keith Dudleston
Keith Dudleston
1 year ago

During the summer there are usually about 9,000 deaths in England and Wales each week.
Over the last two weeks reported by the ONS (week 36 and 37), there were about 11,000.
About 1000 or these 2000 “excess deaths” were probably directly due to COVID
Less than 50 of these 1000 COVID deaths were in fully vaccinated people (5%)
About 5% of NHS beds are occupied by those suffering from COVID; another 5% are empty.
About 2/3rds of the “non-COVID” excess deaths occurred at home

Μαργαρίτα Τάντση
Μαργαρίτα Τάντση
1 year ago

The luxurious living conditions in Sweden could contribute to less than half covid casualties than the present number. The only prerequisite was the face mask in indoor spaces which Tegnell refused to recommend.
The death toll in Sweden, where almost 50% of population are living in ideal detached houses, is the same as in crowded and packed countries and this only can be perceived as bad performance.

David Goldsmith
David Goldsmith
1 year ago

Yes, he is a sham and a liar, through and through. Consistently. He blamed immigrants at one point for getting infected, and the elders for being in old peoples’ homes. Arrogant, insensitive, autistic. I would say that as he is someone who is a white older male he has only one point of view, his own. Yet to the Swedes (by no means all) someone who is lauded in his own land as a latter-day Sankt Anders

Nikolai Hegelstad
Nikolai Hegelstad
1 year ago

Huh, is this supposed to be an attempt of irony and sarcasm?