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Swedish Disease Expert Calls WHO's COVID-19 Warning 'A Total Mistake'


Sweden's top disease expert says a spike in new coronavirus cases is due to more testing. Here, people enjoy the sun and water at a bathing jetty in Malmo, Sweden, Thursday, alongside a sign instructing the public to maintain social distance due to the pandemic.

Sweden's top disease expert says a spike in new coronavirus cases is due to more testing. Here, people enjoy the sun and water at a bathing jetty in Malmo, Sweden, Thursday, alongside a sign instructing the public to maintain social distance due to the pandemic.

Johan Nilsson, TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Ima

Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell says the World Health Organization made “a total mistake” when it included Sweden in a list of countries seeing a resurgence of the coronavirus. The WHO misinterpreted the Swedish data, Tegnell said.

“It is a total mistake,” Tegnell said, according to Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Radio.

Sweden has been closely watched because of its controversial approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the country has urged people to follow physical distancing and other safety precautions, it has not ordered a strict shutdown. While many of its European neighbors endured three months of austere conditions, Sweden allowed most of its bars, restaurants, schools and retail stores to remain open.

Tegnell’s remarks were a retort to a warning from Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, who said on Thursday that in Sweden and 10 other countries, “accelerated transmission has led to very significant resurgence that if left unchecked will push health systems to the brink once again in Europe.”

Along with Sweden, the warning included countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

Days before the WHO issued its warning, Sweden reported 1,699 new coronavirus cases — its biggest spike yet, according to data from the Swedish Ministry for Health and Social Affairs. So far this month, Sweden has set a new record for daily case numbers in every week.

But Tegnell objected to Kluge’s warning, saying he was misinterpreting Sweden’s epidemiological data. In Tegnell’s view, the rise in new cases is due to a recent bump in testing. And he added that Sweden is seeing a low number of admissions to intensive care units, along with a decline in COVID-19 deaths.

Along with social restrictions, Swedish officials had hoped to gain control of the coronavirus by reaching herd immunity. A target date was set for the end of May – but last month, officials acknowledged the country would not meet its goal.

“Herd immunity occurs when enough people of a population are immune to an infectious disease, either because they’ve been infected and recovered or they’ve been vaccinated against it,” as NPR’s H.J. Mai has reported. “Some researchers have put the threshold for coronavirus herd immunity at 60%.”

Overall, Sweden has reported more than 65,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 5,200 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.