Katy Balls

Sweden’s virus expert briefs No. 10

Sweden's virus expert briefs No. 10
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One of the questions regularly asked by Tory MPs on the libertarian wing of the party: why isn't the UK taking the Swedish approach on coronavirus? After the Prime Minister announced this week that the public ought to expect at least six more months of restrictions, Johnson has faced a backlash both within his own party and among certain sections of the scientific community over his strategy of nationwide measures to suppress the virus. 

The chair of the 1922 Committee Graham Brady is attempting to amend the government's emergency powers so MPs have more of a say over coronavirus measures. Speaking this week, Brady suggested the UK could look to Sweden’s strategy, which didn't involve a formal government mandated lockdown. 

But while Johnson has refused to rule out a second national lockdown, these MPs may find cheer in the news that the man behind the Swedish approach recently was called on to give his advice to Downing Street. In the build-up to Tuesday's announcement, the Prime Minister and his Chancellor heard from scientists beyond the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). As well as speaking to Oxford University’s Carl Heneghan and Sunetra Gupta, Coffee House understands that Sweden's chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell contributed to the discussion.

Tegnell was key to Sweden's decision to avoid a full lockdown. The country's response to the pandemic proved a global outlier — with schools, restaurants, cafés and shops mostly remaining open as normal while Britain and most of the rest of Europe was locked down. At the height of the pandemic, gatherings of more than 50 people were banned while the public took on voluntary social distancing as many opted to work from home. While Sweden ended up with a higher death toll than neighbouring countries in the first stage of the pandemic, they appear to have been spared the surge of virus cases underway in other European countries. 

This has led to renewed calls from Tory MPs for Johnson to look to Sweden as a way forward. However, the fact that Johnson suggested in his statement on Tuesday night that likely route out of the current restrictions was either a vaccine or rapid mass testing suggests he is not yet convinced of this alternative approach.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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