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Coronavirus: Italy envoy rejects remark by Sweden’s chief epidemiologist

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Media captionSwedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell argues Sweden’s strategy is largely working

Italy’s ambassador to Sweden has defended his country’s healthcare system after the chief Swedish state epidemiologist questioned Italy’s capacity to tackle the coronavirus.

Anders Tegnell suggested in a radio interview that Italy had “fewer resources” than Sweden to fight it.

Ambassador Mario Cospito issued a defiant statement in response.

“Everyone outside of Italy should express only praise and solidarity to our country and our people,” he wrote.

The spat comes days after Mr Tegnell’s predecessor as state epidemiologist criticised him, arguing the country should have imposed a lockdown.

While the country has told those ill to stay at home and has implemented rules on social distancing, it has not imposed a full lockdown as has been the case in many other nations.

What’s the argument about?

Mr Tegnell made the comments in an interview with public broadcaster Sveriges Radio over the weekend.

Speaking about the response to the coronavirus outbreak, the epidemiologist said “in a modern, wealthy society like Sweden, we should be able to protect our elderly”.

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Sweden has not imposed as strict a set of rules as other countries

“It didn’t need to be as it appeared in China, and perhaps even Italy, where they have fewer resources for this,” he said. “We as a society should be able to manage this better.”

Nearly half of deaths linked to Covid-19 in Sweden are residents of care homes – something which has put the spotlight on elderly care in the country.

Late on Wednesday Italy’s ambassador published a response to Mr Tegnell’s remarks.

Mr Cospito listed rankings suggesting that Italy’s healthcare system was better than Sweden’s, including its higher life expectancy and that it had more hospital beds per thousand inhabitants.

Everyone should praise Italy for its response to the outbreak, Mr Cospito said, “not least because we have not had the time on our side compared to other countries, including Sweden, because of cruel fate”.

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Media caption“A flower gave me hope”. An Italian granny on life after coronavirus lockdown

It is not the first time Mr Cospito has criticised Mr Tegnell for comments about Italy.

In March, after the epidemiologist suggested Sweden would be better able to manage the spread of the virus compared to Italy, the ambassador said Covid-19 was “not a football game [with] opposing fans in the stands”, but instead “a common and epochal challenge to guarantee everyone’s health”.

The statement also comes after former Swedish state epidemiologist Annika Linde attacked the country’s response to the outbreak.

Although she initially supported the measures, Ms Linde has recently come out against Mr Tegnell.

Sweden “probably should have imposed a lockdown in March when Denmark and the rest of Europe did”, she told Danish newspaper Berlingske.

Johns Hopkins University says Sweden has 35,088 confirmed cases of the virus and has reported 4,220 deaths. These are higher numbers than in other Nordic countries, which brought in lockdowns.

Italy has recorded 231,139 infections since the pandemic began and 33,072 deaths, its health ministry says. It is the third highest reported death toll in the world after the US and the UK.

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