“For me, it started going wrong at the end of January,” says Lena Einhorn, a virologist and author who has been a vocal critic of Sweden’s approach. She was following research coming out of China, and in early February she emailed state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell – the man who has been leading Sweden’s response to the pandemic – to raise her concerns about some of the projections published in The Lancet. After a while, he just stopped replying. “The public health agency and the government have separated themselves from critics,” she says. “They played down the risk consistently from the beginning of February.”
At the end of February, thousands of Swedes had a week off for the so-called ‘sports vacation’ – with many of them heading skiing in the Alps, just at the time that the situation in northern Italy exploded. But there was no requirement for those returning to self-isolate, and while some private companies shifted to working from home – public workers and school children were told they had to go to school unless they were already feeling ill.
As in the UK, there was a failure to prepare testing capacity and protective equipment – even now, the official advice in Sweden only recommends face masks if you’re working with a sick patient. “They absolutely denied the possibility of presymptomatic spread,” Einhorn says.