On November 18th, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told Dagens Nyheter: “It's not the case that we are suddenly going up from 20 deaths per day to 40, 50. That's not how it is at all.”
On that day, a Wednesday, 96 new deaths were reported in Sweden due to Covid-19, a significant rise, but the point Tegnell was making was that these were spread over several days, not just in the space of 24 hours.
The Public Health Agency has long acknowledged that there is a delay in the figures it reports, with deaths often added to previous days over the following weeks. This is partly due to delays in how Sweden's regions report deaths, and partly due to cross-referencing with other national registers to ensure that the number is as accurate as possible.
Tegnell told the daily: “We do not have a sharp increase [in deaths], rather it is an increase that we have seen since mid-October. Then we had four to five deaths a day and now we are up to about 20.”
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While it was true that the deaths reported in mid-November usually covered previous days, the same trend has continued. This means the death toll was much higher than the impression given by Tegnell; in fact later data has shown that there were more than 40 deaths per day at the time he made the statement.
The agency's own data now shows that on November 18th, there were 49 deaths linked to the coronavirus.
Journalist Niklas Svensson asked Anders Tegnell about the statements during Thursday's press conference.
“It is quite clear that I underestimated it, I could only talk about what we knew at the time,” Tegnell said. “Calling it 'wrong', I think, is quite serious wording, it wasn't wrong in the sense of trying to mislead anyone. The fact that it would then rise quite significantly and that we'd have an even higher backlog was hard to predict at the time.”
The Local asked a follow-up question about whether the lack of clarity over the death toll at the time meant the Public Health Agency underestimated the severity of the second wave of coronavirus.
“No. Severity of a wave can never just be estimated from the mortality, the spread of the disease is much more important and gives a better indication of the severity of the wave,” he told us.