Sweden's Covid chief admits pursuing herd immunity is 'immoral'

Sweden is relying on voluntary co-operation rather than enforced lockdowns – but cases are still rising

People walk near a trash can with a sign reading "The danger is not over - Keep your distance" on a pedestrian street as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Uppsala, Sweden October 21, 2020. TT News Agency/Claudio Bresciani via REUTERS      ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT.
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Sweden is at a “critical juncture” in its fight against the coronavirus as the country’s leading epidemiologist issued a warning against a herd immunity approach.

Anders Tegnell said it would be “futile and immoral” to pursue herd immunity – a policy that exposes people to the lethal disease so that most then become immune.

The idea is that enough people will eventually have contracted the disease to halt its spread to new patients.

Sweden famously refused the type of compulsory lockdowns seen elsewhere in Europe and the wider world, preferring to appeal to citizens’ sense of responsibility instead.

"Throughout history there has up to now been no infectious disease whose transmission was fully halted by herd immunity without a vaccine," Dr Tegnell told Germany's Die Zeit newspaper.

Sweden cases

“We do have more new infections than we did in the summer and we’re taking it very seriously. But the curve is rising less steeply than elsewhere,” he said.

“So far the increase has not resulted in more people needing to be admitted to hospital. All in all, we’re fairly satisfied.”

While polls show a majority of Swedes support herd immunity, the strategy has also had its detractors, both at home and abroad.

Some accused Sweden of playing Russian roulette with people’s lives early on in the pandemic, as the nation’s death toll surged past those of neighbouring countries with stricter measures.

Now, as Europe tackles a second wave of Covid-19, infection rates are rising in 17 of Sweden’s 21 regions.

Malmo and surrounding Scania county introduced a local voluntary lockdown on Tuesday, urging but not demanding that its people avoid shops, gyms and public transport.

Nearly 4 per cent of all coronavirus tests now yield a positive result, up from 1.2 per cent six weeks ago.

“It’s one of the largest increases we have seen,” Dr Tegnell said. “Partly this is the result of more intensive tracing and testing, but we definitely also have a greater spread of infection.”

While Sweden opted for voluntary efforts, neighbours Finland, Denmark and Norway imposed lockdowns to differing extents.

Sweden has recorded more Covid-19 cases and deaths – 121,167 and 5,934 – than Norway, Finland and Denmark combined – 78,669 and 1,350.