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Sweden declares end of Covid-19 pandemic, despite warnings from scientists

Covid-19 would no longer be classified as a danger to society in Sweden

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  • England also due to call time on the pandemic with plan to lift all Covid curbs

STOCKHOLM – Sweden has scrapped almost all of its few pandemic restrictions and stopped most testing for Covid-19, even as the pressure on the health care systems remained high and some scientists begged for more patience in fighting the disease.

Sweden’s government, which throughout the pandemic has opted against lockdowns in favour of a voluntary approach, announced last week it would scrap the remaining restrictions – effectively declaring the pandemic over – as vaccines and the less severe Omicron variant have cushioned severe cases and deaths.

“As we know this pandemic, I would say it’s over,” Minister of Health Lena Hallengren told Dagens Nyheter. “It’s not over, but as we know it in terms of quick changes and restrictions it is,” she said, adding that Covid-19 would no longer be classified as a danger to society.

As of Wednesday, bars and restaurants will be allowed to stay open after 11pm again, and with no limits on the number of guests. Attendance limits for larger indoor venues were also lifted, as was the use of vaccine passes.

Swedish hospitals were still feeling the strain, however, with around 2,200 people with Covid-19 requiring hospital care, about the same as during the third wave in the spring of 2021. As free testing was reduced earlier this month and effectively stopped from Wednesday, no one knows the exact number of cases.

“We should have a little more patience, wait at least a couple of more weeks. And we are wealthy enough to keep testing,” Fredrik Elgh, professor of virology at Umea University and one of the staunchest critics of Sweden’s no-lockdown policy, told Reuters.

“The disease is still a huge strain on society,” he said.

Sweden’s Health Agency said this week that large-scale testing was too expensive in relation to the benefits. Sweden spent around 500 million Swedish crowns (US$55 million) per week on testing for the first five weeks of this year and around 24 billion crowns since the start of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Sweden registered 114 new deaths where the deceased was infected with the virus. In total, 16,182 people have died either of the virus or while infected by it. The number of deaths per capita is much higher than among Nordic neighbours but lower than in most European countries.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to scrap self-isolation rules for people in England who test positive for Covid-19, ending the last of the pandemic restrictions that have dominated daily life for the past two years.

The dramatic step is due to take effect later this month and would also move England beyond other major Western countries in relaxing virus curbs. While regulations forcing people to self-isolate at home for five days are only set to expire on March 24, Johnson said Wednesday he expects to lift them “a full month early”.

The UK recorded 66,183 confirmed virus infections and 314 deaths on Tuesday, while the seven-day average of cases has fallen by 20 per cent in the last week. Hospital admissions for Covid-19 have declined since the start of the year, while numbers in intensive care are far below the peak seen last winter.

While multiple countries are easing back on various measures, few have gone as far as Sweden and England. In Europe, Finland has done away with the requirement to quarantine after testing positive. South Africa earlier this month did likewise for those who test positive but have no symptoms.

SourceREUTERS

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