Bland hobbyepidemiologer och expertmyndigheter. En resa i pandemins Sverige (Among Hobby Epidemiologists and Expert Authorities. A Look at the Swedish Pandemic; 2022)

During the first spring of the corona pandemic, Sweden, a country normally characterized by common sense, science and democratic values, was suddenly in the midst of world news, because of a pandemic strategy that was completely unique – and initially led to exceptionally high death numbers. So how did this really come about? Lena Einhorn – author, filmmaker and director, as well as a trained doctor with a doctorate in virology – was in the midst of the heated debate surrounding the Swedish strategy, and a strong critic. In the book Among Hobby Epidemiologists and Expert Authorities she describes an unusual Swedish journey.

 

Lena Einhorn says:

 

“What I felt these weeks was an astonishment, over the fact that no one in a position of authority did anything, that no decision-maker took the threat seriously, that obvious warning signals sounded unheard. I can only compare it to the sensation I first had when I woke up from the earthquake in Los Angeles, 1994, and everything shook and the streetlights went out. ‘Why did no one in charge forewarn us that this would happen?’ But that astonishment lasted only a second. The astonishment I felt in the spring of 2020 never ended.”

 

With a sharp eye, Lena Einhorn describes how she progressed from disbelief to activism, and was thrown back into her previous profession as a virologist, something she thought she had left decades ago, long before she became a full-time writer and filmmaker. Among hobby epidemiologists and expert authorities describes the first two years of the Swedish pandemic and debate, and exposes many of the underlying processes.

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Those in charge were convinced that the corona would not spread to Sweden, but would behave like the old SARS viruses and suffocate in its geographical cradle. Einhorn was sure of the opposite and was right… The journey through pandemic Sweden is a depiction of a war… The side that Einhorn represents believes that Sweden chose the wrong pandemic strategy, and that it led to death. Nevertheless, those responsible got the population to support them.They could refuse to listen to critics, refuse to admit mistakes, without it costing them anything. The critics suffered some serious, sloppy, and ugly bashing in the media – one of which the undersigned was guilty of – but still fought on… I’ll let others decide if Einhorn’s description of reality is accurate. The big question is of course: What would have been different if Tegnell had listened to Einhorn in February 2020? Or in April of the same year? October? And how can we know?

Victor Malm, Expressen

 

Einhorn received her doctorate in virology in 1983; since then she has been active as a writer and documentary filmmaker. Is she the right person to question the Public Health Agency’s pandemic handling? The thing is, I think, that those who react when no one else does will almost always be the wrong people… If they are abroad we call them dissidents; and if they survive, they deserve a prize. At home, we think they are troublesome. Through its way of dealing with such dissidents, the media industry shows its true face. In the case of Einhorn, the factual counter-arguments died down pretty quickly: she was cast in the role of foil hat… The book works best as a collection of quotes – and there are certainly some tantrums, bully newspaper op-eds and self-assured assertions here that deserve to be remembered. On March 6, 2020, Agnes Wold tweeted that Stockholmers could safely go to the Melodifestival in Globen, because Tegnell ”has saved them from an epidemic”. Two months later, Sweden had the highest death toll in the world.

Håkan Lindgren, Svenska Dagbladet

 

Although no one believes that the fight against the coronavirus can be won anymore – we can only mitigate the consequences of the pandemic – Einhorn devotes the overwhelming part of the book to dealing with the arch-enemies at the Public Health Agency. Anders Tegnell is portrayed as stodgy, sluggish and ignorant. We were right about testing, presymptomatic infection, mouth protection, she hammers in. We, the enlightened ones. You idiots… Except for the most die-hard Tegnell haters, Einhorn’s book is therefore of no great reading value. It’s her war: just because the saved have buried themselves in trenches, the rest of us don’t have to stand between them and get smeared by the pie-throwing.

Farshid Javalvand, Sydsvenskan

 

Being able to, like Lena Einhorn, both spellbind with words and have a background in virus research is unique. The book is both well written and interesting. In addition, the author describes the events of recent years so it makes for exciting reading. The problem for the reader is that it is difficult to take a stand on the argument because no one has yet seen the final result. Demanding a crystal ball from the authorities, or from anyone at all, is asking a lot. The book is also a description of the small life during the pandemic. There were more nature experiences, less culture. More socializing with a few friends, fewer big events. As such, the book is also a piece of well-written contemporary history.

Michael Nyhaga, BTJ

 

This account and diary of how the pandemic affected Sweden, and how the government handed over power to the Public Health Agency, and how a large part of the Swedish media lost all ability to scrutinize power, should be read by every journalist, every politician, every employee within any authority and for the most part really every person in Sweden who wants us to learn from big mistakes… This book is important, incredibly important.

Rosemari Södergren, Kulturbloggen

 

Lena Einhorn is a medical doctor with a doctorate in virology, but she is better known as a writer and filmmaker. When the pandemic broke out, more than 30 years had passed since she left research. Despite that, she started reading scientific reports about the virus – and emailed a plea for more far-reaching measures to state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. He began his answer with ”Well, we’ll see…” … The picture that emerges is that at least at the beginning of the pandemic, the authorities should have taken the threat more seriously … Nuanced analyzes of pandemic policy will surely be a topic for future history books. Waiting for them, Lena Einhorn’s book is a captivating story about how a virus affects everything from the health of individuals to the view of scientific expertise, democracy and the Swedes’ public health patriotism.

Per Snaprud, Forskning och Framsteg (Research and Progress)

 

The story is both engaging and personal. The Swedish pandemic story is woven together with what happens in Einhorn’s life: a traffic accident, life in quarantine on Värmdö and book project. But there is a clear narrative in the book: Sweden’s path was shaped by Anders Tegnell and his boss Johan Carlson, their decisions were wrong, substandard and late, the government followed their lead and the consequences of this led to a large group of people losing their lives unnecessarily … The fact that the majority of the population seems to be satisfied with the Swedish way of doing things baffles and annoys the author, but is dismissed as neurotic groupthink – the same argument that occurs with anti-vaxxers.

Jakob Carlander, Vimmerby Tidning, and other papers

 

”Now I think it’s very dangerous to think that protective equipment prevents something,” said state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell when he was asked if there isn’t a point in making sure that people who work in elder care have more protective equipment. It is one of many quotes that will not be forgotten so easily, and which are lined up in the latest book about how Sweden handled the pandemic, written by Lena Einhorn. She is not mincing words… In Sweden, no one wanted to hear that you might have been on the wrong track from the start. Why, is the question that plagued Lena Einhorn, as well as the question of Anders Tegnell’s steadfastness, which was also admired by many. She shows this clearly in her book, with many emails she reproduces… The question you are left with is: Did it really have to be this way?

Sofie Stara, Vasabladet, Österbottens Tidning (Finland)

 

Foreign journalists were stunned by Sweden’s headstrong handling. Yes, how did we get there? Lena Einhorn believes that it was not something typically Swedish. In Sweden, we tend to protect people. The reason was unfortunate circumstances. In 2014, the former Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control had been transformed into the Public Health Agency, lost many of its researchers and lost important expertise. The current Agency and a weak government that went along with it became a literally deadly combination, writes Einhorn. In addition, there is a state epidemiologist who did not want to do things for safety’s sake. I agree. In Sweden, saving life and health did not become an overarching objective. It is an important book Lena Einhorn has written.

Anne-Charlotte Östman, LitteraturMagazinet