Anders Tegnell: ‘Omicron won’t change Sweden’s Covid strategy’

State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell
State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. File photo. Photo: Duygu Getiren/TT
The emergence of the Omicron variant won't lead to any major changes in Sweden's Covid response, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told AFP on Tuesday, insisting "it has worked in the past".

Unlike other countries, Sweden never went into lockdown and only recommended the use of face masks in exceptional situations, such as at rush hour on public transport and when accessing healthcare services.

Sweden’s Covid death toll is around the European average, Tegnell told AFP in an interview. Death rates in Sweden – with over 15,000 Covid-related deaths – are however much higher than other Nordic countries.

While Sweden never locked down, authorities did ban nursing home visits and limited the number of people allowed at public events and at bars and restaurants, where opening hours were shortened.

“The effects of the Swedish measures were not so different than the effects of measures in so many other countries,” Tegnell said.

Starting December 1st, a vaccination pass will be required for the first time in Sweden for indoor events with more than 100 people.

That decision was taken before the Omicron variant emerged.

But the same approach used in the previous waves should suffice to combat the new variant, Tegnell said. “It has worked in the past. So far we don’t see any reasons why it shouldn’t work.”

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See also on The Local:

“It’s still the same disease. We have every reason to believe that the measures that we had in place would also work with this variant,” he said. The Omicron strain is believed to be more transmissible and current vaccines may not protect against it, though more data is still needed to be sure.

“To what extent the vaccines will protect against this variant is maybe the main concern,” Tegnell said. “We don’t have much data on this to say yes or no on that,” he said, adding: “There is no sign so far that it gives a more severe disease than the previous variants.”

Sweden currently has one of the lowest number of daily infections in Europe, but Tegnell said he expected numbers to rise in the coming weeks.

“There will most likely be a (new) wave, but this time the big difference is that we have such a big proportion of our population vaccinated, so we believe that the pressure on the healthcare system will be much smaller.”

The number of infections is also expected to rise after decisions to no longer test vaccinated people even if they showed symptoms were reversed in mid-November.


Member comments

  1. Bruno, what I have learned )or I think I have) is that comparing countries in this situation is not an easy task. There are deep cultural differences, the onset of the disease itself was different, the geography and density of cities is a factor. You compare Sweden to France, I can consider my home country, Italy, even thought is 18yrs I am not leaving there anymore, but have all my family there. Culturally, well, they are different: tell a Swede “please behave” they will do it, tell one of my countrymen, “a spectrum from yes ok, to forget about it passing through well maybe but not today”. A bit stereotypical and I can say that Italians behaved better than I thought, at least when they did understand the gravity of the situation. Onset: Italy was one of the first country to be hit in Europe, and when they realized what was going on the virus was happily circulating everywhere. Remember: it is a touristic country, and I mean it. Sweden is not. Important point: lockdowns are very blunt weapons, but if your health system is on its knees there are not so many alternatives. This was the problem. So I do not like lockdowns, but I think that sometimes they can be the only solution. Sweden was always lucky enough to avoid them. City density: Stockholm, Goteborg and Malmö unsurprisingly took the heaviest tolls in terms of casualties. Yet every time I went to Stockholm (in the past) I never had the impression of a crowded capital. The same cannot be said about London (where I lived for several years), Paris, Rome, Milan, Naples. A combination of good urban plans, good health system (especially beds in ICUs) , good repsonse of the population, delayed arrive of the disease and warning signs from other countries may have helped this country towards a better start. As a personal taste though, I have always felt no sympathy for Tegnell and his cynical attitude towards the people that mostly needed protection. His stubborness against masks was a personal choice without any scientific support, and in open contrast with the directives of WHO. Anyway, we are back to square one, a dangerous variant is coming: I have never seen so many people around, so the plan to spread the curve and variolize the population is still ongoing. With the complicity of a government that cannot decide a thing apparently.

  2. It looks like the moderation is taking a long time. This is an attempt to re-post without using links, which I think are the problem.

    There are two differences between the Scandinavian countries which never seem to be reported. The first is that the variant which was spreading here (and was dominant early) called 20B/S:1122L was a different variant than seen elsewhere (except for a small amount in Latvia and Norway .) The source for this is the site covariantsDOTorg which tracks known variants of Covid. We don’t know for certain that it was deadlier, because the arguments are a bit circular — ‘we think more people died because it was deadlier, and we think it was deadlier because more people died’. The other is the effect of winter vacation times on how much of the population was initially seeded with the infection. The Local ran an article about this, and I will avoid the link in this repost, but look for the heading ‘Coronavirus came to Sweden from countries that were under our radar’ published 11 June 2020.Since it was the last week of February when so many people got sick travelling overseas and came home to develop symptoms and sicken their home countries, in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, it is relevant that the Norwegians and Danes were having one of the lowest weeks for international travel that week. They’d already had their sportsweek vacations. Under 1% of them were travelling overseas. Unfortunately, Sweden was having its busiest week of the year for foreign travel — Stockholm was on sportsweek — and more than 10% of the country went overseas. So the ‘initial outbreak’ here was so very, very much larger.

  3. Sweden is not my country and I would be very proud if it was.
    As it turns out I am french and could tell you a thing or two about the devastation the more than hard french lockdown produced……….lucky me….I spent this entire 3 months in Sweden after the Norwegians kicked all foreigners out treating us like lepers on the run.
    The french have more casualties than the Swedes even after a super hard lockdown………so the case for life saving lockdowns goes down the gutter.
    Have a look at the case fatality rates in the US, France and Sweden…….telling
    A friend of mine, female part of the french Gendarmerie told me the horrible cases she had to handle within families. Early February this year, she also told me there would not be another lockdown because of the hardships it was bringing and this is exactly when Macron remembered he was president and sent all these crazy doctors packing.
    Since then, we have lived in a rather free country, the french embracing vaccination when they realised having a beer on a Parisian terrace would become impossible.
    People are storming vaccination centres to get their 3 rd shot and all in all, we are following what Sweden has been doing all along……apart from masks inside and public transports, which really is the lesser of evils after what we’ve gone through.
    Have a look at Germany if you want to look at a messy situation. Old people waiting outside in the cold to be vaccinated and finally turned away.
    Pharmacists not even allowed to vaccinate and politicians totally unable to reach a decision as to what should be done.

    So, hat off to Sweden and Tegnell and for the Swedish readers, you would sing a different tune if you had had to endure what Italy’ France and Spain endured in 2020.

  4. I just posted something which is awaiting moderation. In it I made an error. I said that people were getting ill overseas ‘the second week of February’, when I meant ‘the last week of February’. I will correct this in my post, when it shows up, if that is possible.

  5. There are two differences between the Scandinavian countries which never seem to be reported. The first is that the variant which was spreading here (and was dominant early) called 20B/S:1122L was a different variant than seen elsewhere (except for a small amount in Latvia and Norway .) Source: https://covariants.org/ We don’t know for certain that it was deadlier, because the arguments are a bit circular — ‘we think more people died because it was deadlier, and we think it was deadlier because more people died’. However it is strange that this has almost never been mentioned.

    The other is the effect of winter vacation schedule on disease transmission. The Local actually ran an article that mentioned this. https://www.thelocal.se/20200611/public-health-agency-head-coronavirus-came-to-sweden-from-countries-that-were-under-our-radar Since it was the second week of February when so many people got sick travelling overseas and came home to develop symptoms and sicken their home countries, it is relevant that the Norwegians and Danes were having one of the lowest weeks for international travel that week. Under 1% of them were travelling overseas. Unfortunately, Sweden was having its busiest week of the year for foreign travel — more than 10% of the country went overseas. So the ‘initial outbreak’ here was so very, very much larger.

  6. Interesting concept……combining countries together who have only in common to be…..Scandinavian.
    Comparing Norway with Sweden is ludicrous…..their senior citizens home are much smaller, their population spread along the coast and their towns much smaller too.
    Their legal system too is different and frankly, seeing the Finnish army rounding Helsinki or the Norwegian army patrolling the border to Dalarna with machine guns was not only a laughable tactic but also a pretty scary populist one.
    Sollberg and her cronies are now sent to oblivion and I hope Labour will keep its wits about.
    I was in Copenhagen last week and forget freedom day there, it’s back to masks inside and health pass.
    Tegnell has said it all along…..one needs measure sustainable on the long run.
    Last, have a look at the CFR ….case fatality rate between Sweden and other countries……telling figures

  7. Well, what really needed to happen was an immediate travel ban from China, not one that let citizens float home as they pleased and “self quarantine” because they didn’t.

    Somehow when there were 60,000 cases in China and they told the WHO there was no evidence of human to human transmission some bureaucrat should have pondered if 60,000+ people really frolicked with the same diseased bat…

  8. …..and lastly, Fauci must go. The guy is over 80, he is neither General de Gaulle or Churchill and apart from freaking out and evading uncomfortable questions from congress regarding his role in gain of function he is good for zilch.

  9. Well…….I am….so that evens things up.
    And when this freak show is over, God knows when when the world goes into a neurotic spin every time a new variant is discovered, Sweden will come out as the most successful in the way it handled this………looking at only death numbers when you don’t even know how closed those who died where from the end anyway, doesn’t make any sense.
    What interests me is the overall sense of well-being of the society and there has been soooooo much domestic violence triggered by these senseless lockdowns that it seems bewildering that one might be in favour of them……you told me you’re not…..point taken.

  10. Since you want to talk density I’ll give you a different comparison.

    I live in Chicago, a big city. Both of my grandparents were from Sweden and I’ve visited a few times;

    Not a big population difference;
    Chicago Metro area population: 9,986,960
    Entire country of Sweden population:10,160,169

    Not a huge difference in covid deaths;
    Chicago Metro area covid deaths: 18,628
    Entire country of Sweden covid deaths: 15,015

    A huge difference in population density;
    Chicago metro area population density 1,318/square mile
    Entire country of Sweden pop density 57/square mile

    I live in Chicago proper, and we have a 9 meter wide lot for our home (I’m in a outlying neighborhood of the city, in downtown and some areas, its all high rises)

    Tallest building in Chicago is 108 floors tall.
    Tallest building in Sweden is 57 floors tall.

    If you search for tallest apartments in Chicago you’ll see our top 19 residential buildings are taller than the tallest building in Sweden. We have more buildings that have more floors than your tallest building but they are a little shorter (probably 8 foot ceilings instead of 10+ foot). Anyway, we are a densely packed city, you are a pretty loosely packed nation with about the same population as us.

    Considering that your population density is less than 5% of ours, your fatalities are appalling.

    Now, if you’d rather compare Chicago area against Stockholm, remember our population is 10 times that of Stockholm and the comparison is equally as bad. In the USA we’ve had “lockdowns” but the reality is we never stayed inside except during the 2020 riots (everything was closed for weeks because most everything was looted – grocery stores were only only from 10-4 and they’d have police present).

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