Face of Sweden's lockdown-bucking Covid policies takes WHO job

Anders Tegnell has been hired as a vaccine co-ordinator

Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden talks during a daily news conference on the new coronavirus - Covid-19 situation, in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020. (Photo by Jonas EKSTROMER / TT News Agency / AFP) / Sweden OUT
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Sweden's top epidemiologist, who became the face of the country's lockdown-bucking Covid-19 strategy, is leaving his job to take up a senior role at the World Health Organisation, officials have said.

Anders Tegnell has been hired as a vaccine co-ordinator and will be “a senior expert” in a group co-ordinating the work between WHO, the UN Children’s Fund Unicef and vaccine alliance Gavi

Mr Tegnell gained global attention during the pandemic as Sweden's state epidemiologist, when the country refused to introduce the type of strict lockdown curbs and mask requirements seen in neighbouring nations.

He consistently denied that so-called herd immunity was the aim of the approach, but that more restrictive measures were not effective enough to justify their effect on society.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency issued a statement about the move.

“The mission includes … making Covid-19 vaccines available to countries around the world that have not been able to purchase their own,” it said.

Mr Tegnell has been Sweden's state epidemiologist since 2013, and his departure is effective from Monday.

“I have worked with vaccines for 30 years and have always been passionate about international issues. Now I get the opportunity to contribute to international missions,” he said.

An inquiry into the country's strategy, published at the end of February, said Sweden was correct not to impose containment in the face of Covid-19 but should have introduced measures more swiftly at the start of the pandemic.

While consistently refraining from the type of lockdowns used in other parts of Europe, it did ban visits to elderly care homes and limit the number of people attending public gatherings.

In autumn of 2020 it gradually tightened, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8pm and on public gatherings of more than eight people.

With more than 17,000 deaths so far in a country of 10.3 million people, the toll remains far higher than in neighbouring countries, notably Norway and Finland.

But after having been above at the start of the pandemic, the death toll then fell below the European average.

Updated: March 10, 2022, 3:10 AM