Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s State Epidemiologist during Covid, has made his written submission to the U.K. Covid Inquiry, and it contains a “barrage of uncomfortable facts delivered in typical Nordic deadpan”, says UnHerd‘s Freddie Sayers. Here’s an excerpt.
Tegnell, both revered and reviled as the architect of Sweden’s more laissez-faire Covid response, begins by restating the fundamentals in answer to a series of written questions. What was Sweden’s approach to lockdowns? “No formal lockdown used.” What about so-called “circuit-breaker” mini lockdowns? “None used.” And what was the overall result in terms of excess deaths, or the number of people who died as a result of the Covid period? “Excess mortality differs slightly depending on the method but Sweden is at the same level as the Nordic countries and sometimes lower. The U.K. has a considerably higher excess mortality.” Ouch.
Frankly, Dr. Tegnell needn’t have said anything else. The combination of these two datapoints alone — that the only country in Europe to avoid lockdowns entirely emerged with the lowest excess death count of the whole continent — should be enough for any fair-minded evaluation of the evidence to conclude that lockdowns were a mistake. The minimum evidential threshold for a policy experiment so radical and so destructive to society must surely be that it definitely saved lives; this threshold was not met, and in fact the Swedish example suggests that the policy may well have cost lives in the longer term.
The reason the inquiry invited Dr. Tegnell to answer questions was to convict Boris Johnson of recklessness in not imposing a second lockdown sooner in September 2020. Tegnell attended a now-famous Zoom meeting with Johnson and Sunak alongside Professors Sunetra Gupta, Carl Heneghan and John Edmunds in that month, to hear from alternative voices. The theory is that they delayed the autumn lockdown in part as a result of this meeting.
In his evidence to the inquiry, Tegnell meticulously avoids the traps being set for him, insisting that on the Zoom call he shared information about the Swedish experience but avoided giving specific advice about whether the U.K. should lock down or not. Indeed, in a memo written to the U.K. Government at the time and shared with the inquiry this week, he concludes that the U.K. should take action of some kind, but in doing so should be guided by evidence.
“The short answer to the question [of whether the U.K. Government should intervene] is in my opinion yes,” he wrote in September 2020. “The myth that Sweden did nothing during the pandemic is false. We have initiated a wide range of activities not least in the area of communication.” There was advice to work from home where possible, for example, and to self-isolate while you are symptomatic.
But throughout, Tegnell relentlessly places emphasis on the need for evidence: if he was not convinced that a particular measure provably worked (for example mandating face masks) he refused to introduce it. As a result, except a few notices on trains for some months in 2021, Sweden avoided face-masks entirely.
Perhaps the most interesting section of Dr Tegnell’s evidence is his analysis of the impact of the Swedish constitution. Unlike in most parliamentary democracies including the U.K., Swedish politicians are forbidden from interfering in the work of the Government agencies, including the health agency. …
In other words, the real reason Sweden resisted the global rush to lockdowns in 2020 was that its technocrats (such as Tegnell) were all-powerful. … It’s a paradox that will not sit well with many anti-lockdown campaigners who see the evil technocracy as the problem, and want to sweep away the ‘blob’.