Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell at a press conference about the coronavirus in Solna, Sweden, on March 12, 2020.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

The scientist behind Sweden’s no-lockdown coronavirus strategy has suggested for the first time that the approach may have been a mistake.

Anders Tegnell told Swedish radio if the country had more knowledge about the coronavirus earlier in its outbreak, its reponse would likely have been “somewhere in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done.”

Sweden has repeatedly defended its plan while saying it was constantly monitoring to see if it needed to change its strategy.

But its death toll has now risen to one of the highest in the world.

One political party leader called Tegnell’s latest comments “astonishing” because Sweden had “consistently dismissed” critics for months.

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The scientist behind Sweden’s controversial no-lockdown coronavirus strategy has said he would have recommended tighter restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus if he knew what he now knew about the illness.

The country has been under heavy scrutiny for its approach to the coronavirus, which largely relied on asking people to observe social distancing while they can still go to restaurants, bars, shops, parks, and schools.

Only a handful of rules were actually enforced, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and a ban on visitors to elderly care homes.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, told Swedish radio station Sveriges Radio on Wednesday that while the country would have implemented tougher restrictions, they would still likely not have been as strict as in many countries.

“If we were to encounter the same illness with the same knowledge that we have today, I think our response would land somewhere in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell said, according to Bloomberg.

“Clearly, there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden,” he added.

People sit in Tantolunden park in Stockholm on May 30, 2020.

HENRIK MONTGOMERY/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

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It is unclear what information he is referring to that was not available when the country got its first cases in early March. 

Sweden’s coronavirus strategy has differed so widely from the rest of the world that, if found to be successful, it could guide other countries as they open up and also be used to scrutinize countries that implemented harsh lockdowns.

But Sweden’s death rate has steadily risen to among the highest in the world.

As of Wednesday, the country has recorded 40,803 coronavirus infections and over 4,400 deaths — yielding a death rate of over 10%. The country is home to around 10 million people.

Tegnell previously expressed shock at the country’s deaths, and said his team was constantly looking for evidence that another strategy would work better.

But his latest comments are the first time he has portrayed the strategy as the wrong one. 

People socially distance in a Stockholm shopping center on May 12, 2020.

HENRIK MONTGOMERY/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images

Jimmie Åkesson, the head of the right-wing Sweden Democrats party, tweeted that Tegnell’s comments were “astonishing.”

He said that Sweden had “consistently dismissed” critics for months, saying the country : “Sweden has done everything right, the rest of the world has done wrong. And now, suddenly, this.”

Per capita, Sweden’s death rate is more than 4.5 times the rate in Denmark and more than nine times the rate in Norway. These other Nordic countries are similar to Sweden in terms of population spread and healthcare and political systems.

Sweden’s government and health officials had repeatedly defended the plan, arguing it is better long-term and that it prepares the country for a potential second wave of infections. They also said other countries’ death tolls would likely rise as they ease lockdowns and look more like Sweden.

Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, also said in late May: “Transmission is slowing down, the treatment of COVID-19 patients in intensive care is decreasing significantly, and the rising death toll curve has been flattened.”

People chat and drink in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 8, 2020.

AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

While many Swedish experts have been supportive of the plan, many others across the country had urged the country to change tactics, saying that Sweden appeared to be dismissing evidence about how the virus works and unwilling to take the same steps that almost every other country with the virus were taking.

Many have questioned Sweden’s claims that the population was becoming immune and that children cannot be at risk, and asked Sweden had so few measures to stop the virus spreading between people who did not show symptoms.

They say that Sweden should have taken strong steps given how much of the virus was unknown.

Sweden’s high number care-home deaths and low testing rate have also been questioned.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on Monday said that the country is accelerating its timeline for its review into the effects of its strategy.

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