Public confidence in Sweden’s controversial COVID-response architect ‘in a downward spiral’

December 17, 2020, 12:16 PM UTC

The chief architect of Sweden’s controversial response to the pandemic is losing the confidence of the people who are supposed to be following his advice, with even the nation’s monarch signaling his disapproval.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist and the country’s main proponent of an anti-lockdown strategy, saw his support slump 13 points in a poll published on Thursday, to 59% of those surveyed. Confidence in his employer, the Swedish Public Health Agency, sank to 52% from 68% in October, according to the poll by Ipsos and Dagens Nyheter.

“Confidence is in a downward spiral,” said Nicklas Kallebring, an analyst at Ipsos.

The latest poll follows cries for help from Sweden’s health-care workers, who are increasingly overwhelmed by a pandemic that has sickened and killed exponentially more of their countrymen than in any other Nordic country. The situation has already overwhelmed intensive care units in Stockholm, and authorities are now urgently trying to come up with contingency plans.

No Face Masks

Meanwhile, Tegnell has continued to defend Sweden’s overall strategy of avoiding lockdowns. He also argues that there’s no real evidence that face masks work, and Swedes are among the only people left going about their daily lives largely mask-free, with shops, restaurants and gyms all still open.

In an interview with broadcaster TV4, Tegnell said no one can tell whether Sweden’s strategy has failed.

“More or less all countries are struggling with this,” he said. But he acknowledged that the situation in his home country is dire.

“We are beginning to approach breaking point in many different aspects,” he said. “I understand that health-care is having a very tough time now…the staff are worn out,” all of which means “that the pressure on care is becoming very, very great.”

More broadly, the Ipsos/Dagens Nyheter poll of 1,226 voters showed that trust in the authorities, generally, has fallen to a new low of 34%.

“If confidence in the authorities disappears, fewer people will listen to the advice and recommendations they give,” Ipos’s Kallebring said. “It can have real consequences for life and death.”

Sweden’s central bank on Thursday published an estimate of the economic cost of a prolonged pandemic. Its research shows that each month by which the health crisis can be shortened will add 25 billion kronor ($3 billion) to gross domestic product, and improve public finances by 20 billion kronor.

The King

The Covid-19 death toll in Sweden stands at 7,802, the highest in the Nordic region in both absolute and per capita terms. The situation has caused such wide-spread shock in the country that it drew a rare verbal intervention from the King.

“The Swedish people have suffered enormously in difficult conditions,” King Carl XVI Gustaf told state broadcaster SVT. When it comes to the strategy deployed in Sweden, he said, “I think we have failed.”

In his interview with TV4, Tegnell said he was “surprised” by the intensity of the second wave of the pandemic.

“I think many, with me, are surprised that it has been able to come back so strongly,” he said.