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Sweden’s chief epidemiologist on Wednesday defended his country’s controversial coronavirus strategy, which avoided a lockdown but resulted in one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world.
Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency denied that “the Swedish strategy was wrong and should be changed. That’s not the case.”  
“We still believe that our strategy is good, but there is always room for improvement. … You can always get better at this job,” Tegnell told a news conference in Stockholm.  
Sweden has stood out among European nations and the world for the way it has handled the pandemic, not shutting down the country or the economy like other nations but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty. Swedish authorities have advised people to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants have been kept open the entire time. Only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.
Tegnell’s statement to reporters came after more contrite comments earlier in the day to Swedish radio in which he said “I think there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden, quite clearly.”  
Asked if the country’s high death toll has made him reconsider his unique approach to the pandemic, Tegnell told Swedish radio “yes, absolutely.”
According to the national health agency, Sweden, a nation of 10.2 million people, has seen 4,542 deaths linked to COVID-19, which is far more than its Nordic neighbors and one of the highest per capita death rates in the world. Denmark has had 580 coronavirus deaths, Finland has seen 320 and Norway has had 237, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
“If we were to encounter the same disease again, knowing precisely what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell, considered the architect of the unique Swedish pandemic approach, told SR.
Still, authorities in Sweden, including Tegnell, have been criticized — and some have apologized — for failing to protect the country’s elderly and nursing home residents.  
But Tegnell said Wednesday it was still unclear what the country should have done differently. He also said other nations are unable to tell exactly what measures affected the outcomes of their outbreaks because they threw everything at the crisis at once.
“Maybe we know that now, when you start easing the measures, we could get some kind of lesson about what else, besides what we did, you could do without a total shutdown,” Tegnell said in the radio interview.
At the news conference, Tegnell made it clear that his previous statement “was an admission that we always can become better. I’m sure my colleagues all over the world would say the same thing. There are always aspects which we could have handled this situation even better than we do today, now, as we learn more and more things,” he told The Associated Press.
“Sometimes I feel like a personal punchbag, but that’s OK. I can live with that,” Tegnell added.  
Sweden’s COVID-19 infection rate of 43.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is lower than Spain’s (58.1) and Italy’s (55.4), but is higher than reported rates in the United States (32.1) and Brazil (14.3), according to Johns Hopkins University.  
Last week, the country’s former state epidemiologist, Annika Linde, said in retrospect she believes an early lockdown could have saved lives in Sweden. Political pressure has also forced the Swedish government to speed up an investigation into the handling of the pandemic.
Ordinary Swedes are not sure what to think.
“I’m not walking around thinking that we have a real disaster here in Sweden,” Jan Arpi, a 58-year-old sales executive, told The Associated Press. “I think we have it more or less under control, but we have to be even more careful now after we learned how the virus is spread, especially among elderly people.”  
Tegnell’s pandemic tactics made Sweden a bit of a local pariah in the Nordics and didn’t spare the Swedish economy.  
Sweden’s economy, which relies heavily on exports, is expected to shrink 7% in 2020 and the finance minister says the Scandinavian country is headed for “a very deep economic crisis.”  
More than 76,000 people have been made redundant since the outbreak began and unemployment, which now stands at 7.9%, is expected to climb higher.
On the travel front, neighboring Norway and Denmark said they were dropping mutual border controls but would keep Sweden out of a Nordic “travel bubble.”  
The Danes said they will reopen the border next month to residents of Germany, Norway and Iceland as the country eased its coronavirus lockdown. But Denmark, which has a bridge that goes directly into Sweden, has postponed a decision reopening to Swedish visitors until after the summer. 

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Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Wednesday defended his country’s controversial “soft” COVID-19 strategy, in which Sweden never totally shut down, but admitted the country could have done some things better.Unlike its European neighbors and much of the rest of the world, Sweden relied on its citizens’ sense of civic duty.  Authorities advised people to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants have been kept open the entire time. Only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.The strategy resulted in one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world.At a news briefing, Swedish Public Health Agency epidemiologist Anders Tegnell acknowledged that there would always be “aspects where we could have handled this situation even better than we do today, now, as we learn more and more things.”But he said Swedish authorities still thought theirs was the right strategy. Tegnell said it has worked very well in terms of containing the spread of the disease to a level that the Swedish health care system could handle. It has made it possible to keep schools open, which he said was very important for their society.He acknowledged the “unfortunate” death toll, which he said was mainly in long-term care facilities.  In a Swedish radio interview earlier in the day, Tegnell admitted the death toll had made him reconsider his approach to the pandemic.According to the national health agency, the nation of 10.2 million people has seen 4,542 deaths linked to COVID-19, far more than its neighboring Nordic countries and one of the world’s highest per capita death rates.Denmark has had 580 coronavirus deaths, Finland 320 and Norway 237, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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Bundesliga players are free to show their support for protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in the United States, the German Football Association (DFB) said on Wednesday.The DFB said in a statement that no disciplinary action would be taken against Borussia Dortmund’s Achraf Hakimi and Jadon Sancho, Weston McKennie of Schalke 04 or Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram — all of whom signaled their support during matches.England international Sancho was shown a yellow card after removing his shirt to reveal the message “Justice for George Floyd,” although the booking was for the shirt removal, rather than the slogan.Soccer’s world governing body FIFA, which forbids players expressing personal views about politics, religion and social issues on the field, broke with its usual protocol and advised “common sense” in dealing with such incidents.The DFB said it would take no action against symbols of solidarity with the protests in the U.S. and across the world.”This line will also be taken should further players make demonstrations on racism and the death of Floyd over the course of upcoming matchdays,” the statement said.Anton Nachreiner, chairman of the DFB’s control body, said: “It goes without saying that the DFB’s control body always has FIFA and DFB regulations in mind. In this specific case, however, these are deliberate actions of anti-racism by the players, who are thus campaigning for the very values which the DFB seeks to uphold.”FIFA President Gianni Infantino said this week players supporting the protests would deserve “applause and not a punishment.”The sporting world has united in solidarity behind the anti-racism protests sparked by a video of a police officer in Minneapolis kneeling on the neck of Floyd for nearly nine minutes, causing his death 

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Britain this week eased its lockdown rules, with some pupils returning to school and many families allowed to meet for the first time since March, when measures were implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Britain was one of the slowest countries to lock down and is now one of the worst-hit, with almost 50,000 COVID-19 deaths. Some scientists are now warning that relaxing lockdown rules could trigger a second wave of the pandemic. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.Camera: Henry Ridgwell    Produced by: Jon Spier 

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The German government announced Wednesday it will lift its COVID-related travel warning for European countries on June 15 but that it will still advise against travel to some areas where quarantine rules remain in effect.Following a Cabinet meeting in Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that the warning would be replaced with more conventional travel advice so long as the countries concerned no longer have entry bans or large-scale confinement.Maas said he knows the decision will be good news to many people but cautioned the decision is not an invitation to travel. “We want to make this clear in the travel warnings, which may also include that travel is strongly discouraged, for instance to Britain, so long as there is still an obligatory 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving there.”He noted warnings will stay in effect for Norway and Spain, where entry restrictions are expected to last longer, but that other countries now fulfill the conditions.Germany issued a warning against all nonessential foreign travel in March. Maas warned, “The pandemic is far from over, and we must together prevent a resumption of tourism leading to a second wave – not only in Germany, but also elsewhere.”Maas said that Germany may reimpose travel warnings for countries where there are more than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days.He stressed again that Germany will not repeat the large-scale repatriation program that it launched to bring tourists home in March.

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Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is now reopening its most renowned tourist attractions to international visitors. But these sites will not be seeing the crowds of the past for some time even though the country is open for business. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.Camera: Mark Brewer    Produced by:  Jon Spier     

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French citizens are among the first to be able to download the government-sponsored StopCovid app as the government begins coronavirus contact tracing through cell phones.The release of the public health StopCovid app Tuesday coincides with phase three of the government’s re-opening plan, during which restaurants, high schools and universities once again welcome students and patrons.The coronavirus has claimed nearly 29,000 French lives. Using a Bluetooth signal from cell phones, the app collects the presence of nearby anonymous users. If an individual tests positive, the app notifies those they were in close contact with for a minimum of 15 minutes so they can take the proper health protocols.Other EU nations are developing similar apps in the hopes that they will mitigate COVID-19 flare-ups as the bloc’s economies begin to re-open.The Euronews television channel reported in May that the continent was in disagreement over best practices for a pan-European app, with Switzerland and Spain exiting the initiative due to privacy concerns and Germany seeking assistance from tech giants Apple and Google.France and Britain reportedly rejected external backing, preferring to develop their own tech infrastructure.The French system differs from software jointly developed by Apple and Google in that it stores user information on a centralized, government-run server, rather than storing the data directly on mobile phones.The French government denies claims from critics that the app mimics a surveillance state.“The problem with a centralized protocol is that you have to be confident and to trust your state but we’re in a democratic state, we have checks and balances,” Cédric O, France’s junior minister for the digital economy, told the AP.An article in Le Monde newspaper published May 29 stated that officials preferred not to leave the security of citizen’s data to private firms, necessitating the need for a centralized, government-run system.The government says the app does not utilize location tracking and deletes user data after 14 days, the amount of time it takes the virus to exhibit symptoms.The project’s website listed transparency, regard for public health, and the respect and protection of an individual’s privacy as a top priority.Although use of the app overwhelming passed the upper body of parliament last week, some lawmakers expressed apprehension, citing additional security concerns and fears that the app would not be effective if the population does not use it. 

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World outrage at George Floyd’s death in the U.S. was growing Tuesday as the European Union’s top diplomat said the bloc was “shocked and appalled” by it and thousands marched in Australia’s largest city.
In France, protests were planned for the evening in Paris and across the country after calls from the family of a French black man who died shortly after he was arrested by police in 2016. A protest was also planned in The Hague, Netherlands.
Floyd died last week after he was pinned to the pavement by a white police officer in Minneapolis who put his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck until he stopped breathing. His death set off protests that spread across America.  
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s remarks in Brussels were the strongest so far to come out of the 27-nation bloc, saying Floyd’s death was a result of an abuse of power.
Borrell told reporters that “like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd.” He underlined that Europeans “support the right to peaceful protest, and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind, and for sure, we call for a de-escalation of tensions.”
Protesters around the world have expressed solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death.
Thousands marched through downtown Sydney on Tuesday. The protesters in Australia’s largest city chanted, “I can’t breathe” — some of the final words of both Floyd and David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.
The demonstrators carried placards reading, “Black Lives Matter,” “Aboriginal Lives Matter,” “White Silence is Violence” and, referring to those protesting in cities across the U.S., “We See You, We Hear Your, We Stand With You.” Other placards read, “We’re here because they aren’t,” with depictions of Floyd and Dungay.
The protesters, who appeared to number around 3,000, marched from Hyde Park to the New South Wales state Parliament, with plans to continue to the U.S. Consulate.
“It’s just gut-wrenching the climate of what’s happening in America, and it’s also happening here in Australia, though it’s subtle. Racism is real for me,” said one of the protesters, Aoatua Lee.
Around 2,000 demonstrators had gathered in Australia’s west coast city of Perth on Monday night to peacefully protest Floyd’s death, and rallies are planned for other Australian cities this week.
An indigenous Australian lawmaker called on governments to use Floyd’s death as an opportunity to reduce deaths of indigenous people in custody.  
Linda Burney, the opposition spokeswoman on indigenous Australians, said Tuesday that more than 430 indigenous people had died in Australian police custody since 1991.
“I think we should be using it as an opportunity,” Burney told Australian Broadcasting Corp., referring to Floyd’s death. “Whether we like it or not, it doesn’t take much for racism to come out of the underbelly of this country.”
“It seems to me that there are lots of things that state and territory governments could do, and the federal government could do to lower the number of Aboriginal people in custody,” she added.
While indigenous adults make up only 2% of the Australian population, they account for 27% of the prison population.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese backed Burney’s call. “There are far too many indigenous Australians who are incarcerated today. As a percentage of the population, this is a tragedy and it’s one that must be addressed as an absolute national priority,” Albanese told reporters.
Meanwhile, more African leaders are speaking up over the killing of Floyd.
“It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, the United States, this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism,” Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, said in a statement, adding that black people the world over are shocked and distraught.
Kenyan opposition leader and former Prime Pinister Raila Odinga offered a prayer for the U.S., “that there be justice and freedom for all human beings who call America their country.”
Like some in Africa who have spoken out, Odinga also noted troubles at home, saying the judging of people by character instead of skin color “is a dream we in Africa, too, owe our citizens.”
And South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, recalled leading a small protest outside the U.S. Embassy several years ago over the apparent systemic killings of blacks. Mboweni said the U.S. ambassador at the time, Patrick Gaspard, “invited me to his office and said: ‘What you see is nothing, it is much worse.'”
In Europe on Monday, thousands spilled across streets in Amsterdam to denounce police brutality, and those demonstrating in Paris urged the French government to take police violence more seriously and held up signs like “Racism is suffocating us.”
Some government leaders have seen the U.S. unrest as a chance to highlight what they see as American hypocrisy on protest movements at home versus abroad.  
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam questioned the foreign criticism over an imminent national security law being imposed in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
“They take their own country’s national security very seriously, but for the security of our country, especially the situation in Hong Kong, they are looking at it through tinted glasses,” Lam said Tuesday.

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