Swedish expert backtracks on herd immunity for Ireland

Dr Johan Giesecke had advocated to an Oireachtas committee for a controlled spread

Sweden's former chief epidemiologist Dr Johan Giesecke has admitted that Sweden's herd immunity approach to controlling the Covid-19 pandemic might not work in Ireland after earlier advocating for a "controlled spread" of the virus.

Dr Giesecke gave evidence to the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee on Wednesday in which he outlined how the approach has worked in the Scandinavian country.

Giving his opening address, Dr Giesecke said there should be a “controlled spread” among the under 60s and that the State should allow a “tolerable spread” of the virus in the over-60s.

He said schools must remain open and he pointed out that there was no difference between infections among schoolchildren in Sweden, where schools were kept open, and in neighbouring Finland which closed its schools.

Speaking later, Dr Giesecke denied that he was prescribing the Swedish model for Ireland after it was put to him that differences between Ireland and Sweden’s population densities, classroom sizes, and sick pay entitlements would likely mean different outcomes in the two countries.

“I’m not prescribing anything for Ireland,” he told Drivetime on RTÉ Radio One. “You have to make your own decisions. That’s not up to me.

“What you just told me, I’m unaware of this. I’m objecting to you saying I’m telling Ireland what to do. I’m not.

“What you’re telling me is a lot of things I don’t know. I was asked to join this committee. I didn’t volunteer for it. With all this knowledge of the Irish situation, and the way your country works, I can’t tell you that this would be better for Ireland.”

In his address to the Oireachtas committee, Dr Giesecke also said “zero Covid” was not a feasible solution because it would have to apply in every country in the world.

Sweden’s “soft lockdown” worked because the country trusted its people, he said, adding “people are not stupid” and would respond if told how to protect themselves.

Dr Giesecke added Covid-19 constituted a threat to democracy in many countries with some politicians acquiring extra powers that they might not relinquish.

He also told the committee that it was too early to compare the Covid-19 strategies of different countries. “We are only at the beginning of this epidemic,” he said.

Dr Giesecke suggested that older people should adhere to the rules about protecting themselves against Covid-19 by keeping two metres distance from other people, washing their hands and avoiding large social gatherings.