* Sweden’s COVID-19 mortality rate higher than neighbours’
* In virus fight, Sweden relied largely on voluntary steps
* Epidemiologist says more could have been done
STOCKHOLM, June 3 (Reuters) - Sweden should have done more to combat the coronavirus and prevent a much higher national COVID-19 death rate than in neighbouring countries, the man behind the Public Health Agency’s pandemic strategy said on Wednesday.
Nearly 4,500 Swedes have died in the outbreak, a higher mortality rate than in Denmark, Norway and Finland, and criticism has been growing over the government’s decision not to impose lockdown measures as strictly as elsewhere in Europe.
Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency, said that in hindsight Sweden should have done more.
“If we were to run into the same disease, knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would end up doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell told Swedish radio.
“Yes, I think we could have done better in what we did in Sweden, clearly.”
While most of Europe, including Norway, Denmark and Finland, closed schools, shops and businesses, bringing much of society to a halt, Sweden has relied more on voluntary measures, social distancing and common-sense hygiene advice to stem the outbreak.
It shut care homes to visitors in late March, but around half of the deaths in the country have been among elderly people living in care facilities.
Tegnell said it was hard to know which measures taken elsewhere might have been the most effective in Sweden.
“Maybe we will find this out now that people have started removing measures, one at a time,” he said. “And then maybe we will get some kind of information on what, in addition to what we did, we could do without adopting a total lockdown.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the government would launch an enquiry into the handling of the pandemic.
Reporting by Simon Johnson, Editing by Timothy Heritage