Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, said on 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah' his team did not choose to risk lives to keep Sweden open.
The man leading Sweden's coronavirus
response said the country's "death toll really came as a surprise to us" in an interview on the controversial strategy.
He denied that Sweden's strategy to avoid a compulsory lockdown was a conscious decision to accept a higher death toll, and instead said that was never part of the plan.
Dr Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, described Sweden's approach on "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" on Tuesday.
He said: "We never really calculated with a high death toll initially, I must say."
"We calculated on more people being sick, but the death toll really came as a surprise to us."
As of Tuesday, more than 2,700 people had died and more than 23,000 people had tested positive for the virus in Sweden.
Tegnell said there were good points to Sweden's unusual strategy, which largely relies on people to socially distance themselves without fixed rules.
But he admitted: "I am not saying we are successful in all different ways. I mean our death toll is really something we worry a lot about."
He noted that Sweden has had the same issue as many European countries: a significant number of deaths in nursing homes, even though visitors to such homes have been banned in Sweden.
"It's very difficult to keep the disease away from there. Even if we are doing our best, it's obviously not enough."
But he said: "We are not putting anybody's lives above everybody else's lives, that's not the way we're working."
Tegnell said in late April that at least 50% of the country's deaths had been in nursing homes.
"We really thought our elderly homes would be much better at keeping this disease outside of them then they have actually been," he told Noah.
Sweden's death toll is currently far higher than its Nordic neighbours and many other countries that locked down. Denmark's death toll stands at 506, Finland's 252 and Norway's 215
Tegnell has previously said it is "very difficult" to know whether a lockdown could have prevented more deaths, especially because so many deaths have been in nursing homes.