“Using a hammer to kill a fly”

The Financial Times has published a fascinating interview with Dr. Anders Tegnell who spearheaded Sweden’s coronavirus policies.

Anders Tegnell and the Swedish Covid experiment

The controversial epidemiologist believes lockdown is ‘using a hammer to kill a fly’. Could he be proved right?

By Richard Milne, Financial Times

At the start of this year, Anders Tegnell was just a low-profile bureaucrat in a country of 10m people, heading a department that collects and analyses data on public health. Today, he has become one of the best known — and most controversial — figures of the global coronavirus crisis.

The 64-year-old Swedish doctor was meant to spend 2020 helping Somalia set up a public health agency as well as sending questionnaires out to Swedes to gauge different aspects of their wellbeing. Instead, his approach to Covid-19 — to keep schools, restaurants, fitness centres and borders open while refusing to follow China in imposing a formal lockdown — has seen him become an unlikely polarising figure for a polarised age.

For many Swedes, their state epidemiologist has embodied a rational approach as other countries have appeared to sacrifice science to emotion. “I wish I were coming with you to see him,” one of Sweden’s leading chief executives confided to me just before I went to see Tegnell. “The way he has stood for what he believes in while the rest of the world does something else is admirable.”

Public support for Tegnell has remained high over a period in which life, while very different to before, has been more normal than in many other countries. Such is his stock in Sweden that there are stories of people having his bespectacled face tattooed on their bodies, while some on the American and British right have seized on Tegnell as a champion of freedoms they feel they have lost during lockdown.

But for a minority domestically, and many internationally, he is a far more problematic figure. The populist Sweden Democrats have called for him to resign after thousands of elderly in care homes died. That has given Sweden the fifth-highest death rate per capita in Europe, five times higher than neighbouring Denmark and about 10 times more than Norway and Finland.

For some local experts, Tegnell’s standing alone as the world locked down inspires none of the CEO’s veneration. “Tegnell is known for his stubbornness. You wonder what this would have looked like with a different person in charge,” says a Swedish epidemiologist who has been a critic of Tegnell’s. International media have been harsher still: The New York Times has called Sweden a “pariah state” and “the world’s cautionary tale”.

The man so venerated and so decried works in a drab backstreet building in a northern Stockholm suburb close to the capital’s largest hospital. Tegnell emerges out of the public health agency’s canteen smiling and looking both rested and tanned in a short-sleeve blue polo shirt. It is a warm late August day and we sit in the midday sunshine at a wonky picnic table, him nursing a mug of black coffee, me a bowl of deer and wild mushroom stew. I start by asking him to give himself a report card — and his answer is classic Tegnell, defending Sweden’s approach resolutely and casting gentle aspersions on others.


PHOTO CREDIT: Swedish COVID-19 Statistics