How controversial virus experiment failed

When most of Europe was in government-enforced lockdown, Sweden went against the grain.

The country's unique strategy to deal with the deadly coronavirus without tanking the economy was to keep schools, cafes, restaurants and shops open, while encouraging people to voluntarily distance themselves and work from home.

The idea was that the country would achieve "herd immunity" - a level of the disease where most of the population has been infected, and subsequently developed immunity, which would in turn stop the virus from spreading.

But a new study has found the number of Swedes who have formed antibodies to the virus is smaller than expected, dashing hopes that herd immunity can be achieved.

The study, carried out by the country's Public Health Agency and published last week, found that just 6.1 per cent of the country's population had developed coronavirus antibodies by late May. This figure falls far short of the 40 per cent predicted by Anders Tegnell, the country's chief epidemiologist.

Back in May, he told The Financial Times: "In the autumn there will be a second wave.

"Sweden will have a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be quite low. But Finland will have a very low level of immunity. Will Finland have to go into a complete lockdown again?"

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell initially predicted that 40 per cent of Swedes would become immune to the virus. Picture: Fredrik Sandberg/TT via AP
Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell initially predicted that 40 per cent of Swedes would become immune to the virus. Picture: Fredrik Sandberg/TT via AP


But as alarming as the findings are, Dr Tegnell has now said the country does not need to radically alter its policy.

"The strategy has never been to achieve a certain level of immunity," he said. "Our strategy has always been to keep the level of spread on a level that is so low that it does not affect society or healthcare in any catastrophic way and that has been achieved."

Experts have said achieving herd immunity would require at least 60 per cent of the population to become immune to the virus.

"The spread is lower than we have thought but not a lot lower," Dr Tegnell said.

"We have different levels of immunity on different parts of the population at this stage, from 4 per cent to 5 per cent to 20 per cent to 25 per cent."

He also referenced another study indicating that the virus's peak had passed.

With 5122 deaths and almost 60,000 cases, Sweden has one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus death in the world.

To compare those figures with other Scandinavian countries, Denmark has recorded 602 deaths, Finland has recorded 327 deaths, and Norway 248.

More than nine million people have been infected by the virus worldwide and over 470,000 have died.

The number of cases and deaths continues to climb rapidly in the United States, Brazil, India and Pakistan.

Infections have slowed in China and South Korea, suggesting some progress in stemming their newest outbreaks.

South Korea reported 17 new cases, the first time its daily increase fell to under 20 in nearly a month and Beijing's increase was in single digits for the first time in eight days.

Australia has just recorded its highest number of cases in six weeks, with 17 new cases in Victoria overnight. Authorities don't know where 11 of them came from.


Originally published as How controversial virus experiment failed