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Anders Tegnell was a god among anti-lockdowners. Who will they worship now that he admits he was wrong?

Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Anders Tegnell was a god among anti-lockdowners. Who will they worship now that he admits he was wrong?
The Swedish hero of the anti-lockdown movement has said Sweden should have had a tougher lockdown. How will his devotees cope with their grief and can he ever be replaced? 

Some people say never meet your heroes, but I say don’t bother having heroes – because they’ll only let you down. Fine, you might get lucky with a Muhammad Ali or Tom Hanks, but why take the risk of pinning your colours and devotion to the works of OJ Simpson or Gary Glitter? Best to keep a respectable emotional distance.

I mean, just look at the poor anti-lockdowners, particularly the British Anti-Lockdown Squad (BALS). This merry band of what feels like thousands of mainstream media columnists, mavericks who defy the world’s leading scientific experts and their worthless scientific expertise, always had one guy they could point to and say, “Look! He’s a scientific expert and he says lockdown is stupid and that we should all be hanging out in bars, listening to Roxette and having sex with anyone we like.”

That man was Anders Tegnell: Sweden’s chief epidemiologist and the man behind the country’s remarkably laidback approach to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I say ‘was’, not because he’s died or been fired, but because Tegnell has admitted that Sweden should have adopted tougher measures. He’s become a bit anti-anti-lockdown. Or pro-lockdown. 

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Now, I won’t compare this to the crimes of Simpson and Glitter. It’s more an ideological betrayal of the BALS purists, akin to when Bob Dylan went electric.

“If we were to encounter the same disease again knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell said.

Not quite in the “I am your father” league of twists but still a kick in the BALS.

Before now, Tegnell had been critical of other countries’ more restrictive approaches. On his advice, the Swedish government banned gatherings of more than 50 people and stopped over-16s from going to school, but merely asked, rather than ordered, its citizens to avoid essential travel and suggested elderly people stay at home. The BALS ‘common sense’ approach we hear so much about.

However, that approach brought results that were not commonly appreciated, especially when it came to people in old folks' homes, who account for roughly half of all deaths in the country. This has caused many Swedes to talk about Ättestupa, which is not a death metal band but a series of cliffs where ancient Scandis indulged in ritual senicide: Anyone past their Useful Before date would jump or be pushed off this mortal coil. 

Indeed, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden is the current ‘form team’ for overall Covid-19 death rates. In what feels like a ‘70s Eurovision result, it notched up 5.29 deaths per million people in the week to June 2, ahead of the second-placed UK on 4.48.

Now, I’ve always been firmly against comparing countries’ approaches to the pandemic, particularly countries that are significantly different, such as Sweden and the UK, or New Zealand and, well, everywhere else. It’s not a competition. Call me a liberal beatnik, but I’m very much against the painful and unnecessary demise of people around the world and don’t really mind how that comes about. Yeah, I’m a global anti-death type. Bring the hate.

This is why I find the BALS so painful and unnecessary to listen to as they scream and point to things that really aren’t relevant, telling us that we should be doing those things. Though I’ll admit that it’s hard not get some satisfaction from hearing the thing they pointed to turn around and say, “Actually, don’t do what we did.” 

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So, with their former idol now shopping for shoes that fit clay feet, who will they turn to? Great denier presidents like Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil or Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus? Maybe not. 

Perhaps they’ll start pointing to Neil Ferguson, the British epidemiologist who had to quit the UK government’s SAGE advisory panel after breaking lockdown rules to see his married lover. He’s now admitted that the UK and Sweden use “quite similar” science and that Sweden, for whom he has “great respect,” has “gone quite a long way to [achieving] the same effect” as the UK. 

I mean you can’t argue with that. One and two on the death leaderboard!

Ferguson’s statement is even less dramatic than Tegnell’s but I’m sure the BALS will be all over it. Of course, it’ll mean them deifying a man who they ridiculed first as ‘Professor Lockdown’ and then as ‘Professor Pantsdown’, but, despite this bastard lockdown, I hear you can still get some delicious humble pie – or ödmjukhet as they say in Sweden – on Uber Eats.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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