“Thanks for reminding me,” Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell replied deadpan when the Observer asked in late March how he handled the knowledge that he would be to blame if Sweden’s decision to forego a lockdown were to go badly wrong.
“But seriously,” he continued, “I might look like a figurehead but agencies in Sweden are very much working as a whole. This isn’t something I decide alone in my office every morning.”
The message was clear. He didn’t think he would be held responsible if the light-touch Covid-19 regime associated with his name failed.
On Friday, as Sweden recorded 9,654 new cases and 100 deaths, the country’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, suggested he might be right.
“This number of casualties – of course we wanted to avoid that. It’s nothing that you want to see,” he said, announcing the end to Sweden’s long hold-out against recommending face masks. “But … the responsibility here is not so easy, to point at exactly one person [and say] ‘you are responsible’.”
When Tegnell briefed Boris Johnson at the end of September, it still seemed possible that the high spread of infection in Sweden in the spring might grant enough immunity to make a second wave easier to control.
Now those hopes have been dashed, with the level of new daily cases, hospitalisations and deaths once again far above that seen in the country’s Nordic neighbours, Dr Tegnell and his former boss Johan Giesecke are no longer granted near daily interviews from herd immunity advocates in the British and US media.