Covid-19 case at Malmö conference: Handshakes were ‘avoided’

Handshakes were "avoided as much as possible" at an international Holocaust conference in Sweden, a government spokesperson told The Local after the Latvian president Egils Levits tested positive for Covid-19.

Löfven shaking hands with Ronald S Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.
Stefan Löfven shaking hands with Ronald S Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, at the conference in Malmö on Wednesday. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

During the conference in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, Levits and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö had a chat over breakfast.

After Levits tested positive, Niinistö decided to go into quarantine due to exposure to Covid-19, reported Finnish news agency SPT.

Although many attending the conference did so digitally, it is estimated that around 350-400 attended in-person at the conference site in Malmö’s southern Hyllie district. Among those attending in-person were King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden.

According to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who hosted the conference, attendees were “careful not to shake hands – this was a rule throughout the conference”, Löfven told TT.

Löfven was pictured shaking hands with Ronald S Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, at the conference, so The Local asked for clarification on the health and safety precautions taken. A government spokesperson told us that “all delegations were told prior to the conference not to shake hands, and this was avoided as much as possible”.

When asked if he was going to take any further measures, Löfven, who is vaccinated against Covid-19, told TT that he is “continuing to follow recommendations” set by the Public Health Agency to go into isolation if experiencing symptoms.

Sweden’s current Covid-19 recommendations state that you should stay at home and get tested if you develop symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, only people who aren’t fully vaccinated have to keep a distance to other people, and there is no mandate to wear a face mask.

A government spokesperson told TT that there is currently no information to suggest that other any other attendees or employees at the conference have been infected with Covid-19.

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”