Head of Sweden’s no-lockdown coronavirus plan says country’s heavy death toll “came as a surprise” – 1,500 deaths in aged care

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State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has said the 3,000-plus COVID-19 deaths in the country – 50% of which took place in aged care homes – “came as a surprise” during an appearance on ‘The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’ this week.

Sweden stoked controversy with its lockdown strategy which only encouraged people to avoid non-essential travel, work from home and stay indoors if they are over 70 or are feeling ill.

As we covered here, the Government’s advice to aged care homes was that staff should not wear masks or use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) unless they are dealing with a resident in the home, they suspect is infected – and that staff should stay home if they detect any symptoms in themselves.

Statistics from the National Board of Health and Welfare published this week showed that of those aged 70-plus who died of the virus – 90% of the total deaths – around 50% lived in some form of special housing, while 25% had home carers.

“We never really calculated with a high death toll initially, I must say,” he said.

“We calculated on more people being sick, but the death toll really came as a surprise to us.”

Like many other countries, Sweden had instituted a national ban on visits to aged care homes on 30 March, but in Stockholm alone, over 200 of its 400 aged care homes reported at least one case of the virus.

“It’s very difficult to keep the disease away from there,” he said. “Even if we are doing our best, it’s obviously not enough.”

Surveys by the regional infectious disease units in both Stockholm and the neighbouring Sörmland regions suggest the high infection rate was a result of the difficulty in ensuring safe distance between residents – many of whom have dementia – and the need for staff to stay home from work with the slightest respiratory symptoms – because many who tested positive were asymptomatic.

However, Dr Tegnell denied the Government had put less value on the lives of its elderly.

“We are not putting anybody’s lives above everybody else’s lives – that’s not the way we’re working.”