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How to Handle a Pandemic

The Corona pandemic has been a big part of our lives the last couple of years. It has affected our lives in more way than one. Illness and isolation were the key words. Sweden was one of the few countries that did not totally close down, and there has been a lot of discussion on the matter. All in all, when you look back, Sweden did manage better than most countries in spite of this. Anders Tegnell was the person facing the public and he became famous and looked up to, almost like a pop star. He has written a book about what happened during these turbulent years. He told his story to journalist Fanny Härgestam who wrote it down in Tankar efter en pandemi - och lärdomarna inför nästa. Translated it will be something like: Thoughts after a pandemic - and the lessons for the next.

It is a very interesting tale on a situation that nobody had experience before. He is a civil servant and physician specialising in infectious disease. He was the state epidemiologist from 2013 - 2022. He starts his story with a background in his education and experience working abroad in Addis Abeba, 1968, Vientiane 1990 and Kinshasa 1995. There is also a chapter on his experience of the Swine flue.

We get an insight into how the Swedish Health Agency is working. How the staff started to treat this flue similar to earlier ones. It soon became clear that this disease did not act like something they had seen before. The whole situation was new. They interacted with colleagues around the world to learn from others and give their own experience. All of them had to approach covid as a totally new experience. Very soon countries started to close their borders and go into a lockdown.

The lockdown was done under the principle of carefulness. A basic principle to be treated with care, especially when you don't know the consequences. It would probably lower the number of cases of both the illness and death. However, which impact would it have on people's health and life quality. The factors had to be balanced. During the whole pandemic the Health Agency had to balance all these factors. Sweden was also under a lot of pressure since they did not go into lockdown. Sweden against the world. Tegnell says there was not a distinctive time when the decision was made. They looked at the situation as it occurred. To close down society was not an option at any time, and furthermore there was not available legislation to do so. As Tegnell says: "We were not preparing for a hundred meter run, but for a long distance race."

As we are coming out of the worst of the pandemic there are a lot on research going on how the pandemic has affected public health. Mental health has deteriorated, both acutely and long term, since people felt worse, also due to worries in general. The Agency's measurements on health the last years have not shown that mental health has changed negatively. Although there are some signs of negative input, Tegnell feels that the pandemic has had more negative consequences on society at large.

According to several measurements, over mortality was very low in Sweden. So why did Sweden manage this, although it did not go into lockdown? It will probably take years of studies to come to a certain conclusion. Here are some indicators though.

  • Health care system which is well developed in Sweden with a high capacity. The same was the case in our neighbouring countries. There is research that show that there is a connection between well developed health care, high degree of economical equality and low over mortality. Although it has to be said that many other countries in Europe have a well developed health care, but in spite of this, higher over mortality.

  • Swedes highly trust authorities and did follow the advice of the Agency. Many changed their behaviour, worked from home and kept distance when out in society.

  • A report from Telia (a telecom company) showing the pattern of movement during the pandemic, shows that Swedes limited travelling as much as our neighbouring countries, although they were in lockdown and forced to do so. Swedes did it voluntarily.

  • To keep society open lowered possible risks for depression and other health problems related to isolation.

  • The social protection net could have played a role. People who lost their income, or got sick, got support from unemployment insurances or the social insurance, which probably eased stress and worries.

When the vaccin came, it changed the course of the pandemic.


Many countries closed down, travelling more or less ceased in the effort to curb the pandemic. It does not have any great impacts on the transmission of disease.

In a crises the countries in the world do not priorities international solidarity. You look to your own country first of all. It might not always be the best way forward.

Vaccination is important and there should be a model for distribution, especially to poor countries.

Communication is important. The Agency held daily press conferences during the peak of the pandemic. Everyone kept themselves up-to-date with the latest situation.


This is a very interesting book. Tegnell takes us behind the scenes of the Health Agency, their colleagues, their contacts with politicians, journalist and other interested parties. It gives you a clear view on what happened, and also the insecurity the people felt when they realised this is something totally new. All their gathered experience can help, but they have to go beyond what they have seen earlier.

One of the things why information and obedience worked very well in Sweden is that Swedes do have a big trust for authorities. Furthermore, the Agency was in charge, not the politicians like in many other countries. You trust the experts, but in most countries there is not such big trust for the politicians. They have another agenda.

There might be other people involved in the pandemic in your country that have written books on these hard times? It is interesting to see how it works and this book had it all. Anders Tegnell is a man passionate for his work.

14 views2 comments


Mar 01

Good to know there's an least one country in the world where the population trust their leaders. Which means the leaders are trust worthy! - a rarity. Emma @ Words And Peace

Replying to

Yes, indeed. But some people call us naive.

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