Sweden breaks ranks in Covid battle again with no-test stance

Scandinavian country has charted its own path through pandemic, avoiding strict lockdowns

Sweden has again broken ranks with its neighbours to employ its own tactics in defeating Covid.

Its health agency said vaccinated Swedes no longer need to get tested even if they have symptoms of the disease.

The move has led to some of Sweden's regions no longer providing free testing for all, and resulted in a sharp decline in Covid-19 testing this month.

It comes just as much of Europe contends with surging infection rates.

Sweden's handling of the pandemic has stood out – the country shunned lockdowns throughout the health crisis and instead relied on voluntary measures based on social distancing and good hygiene.

A commission reviewing the country’s light-touch approach to dealing with Covid-19 was highly critical, saying authorities "did too little, too late" to curb Covid-19 infections.

The country's number of deaths per capita since the start of the pandemic is several times higher than those among its Nordic neighbours but also lower than in most European countries that opted for strict lockdowns. So far, more than 15,00 people have died and there have been more than one million cases.

Covid-19 testing fell by 35 per cent last week compared with a month earlier. That places Sweden in the bottom of the European Union along with countries like Germany, Spain, Poland and Finland, according to Our World in Data.

The health agency says the resources for testing could be better used elsewhere and that there is no need to test those who are fully vaccinated because they have a low risk of getting sick and are less likely to spread the disease.

However, the timing of the decision, just as Europe is heading into winter, has baffled some scientists. The stance by the health agency has rekindled criticism the country has turned its back on the scientific consensus about the virus spread and the ability to break disease chains.

"The number of cases is low in Sweden, but considering how the outside world looks like, with lots of cases in Europe, I think you should have waited with this decision," said Anders Sonnerborg, professor in clinical virology and infectious diseases at Karolinska Institutet.

"I have a hard time seeing that waiting a few months would be a major intervention in people's lives," he said.

Health Agency official Sara Byfors on Thursday defended the decision saying testing would still be at high enough levels to catch trends and that testing had never caught all cases.

"If we see that the spread of infection increases and that it becomes a problem then we are prepared to reverse our decision," she said.

The number of hospital admissions and patients treated at intensive care units have started to creep up in recent weeks but are still the lowest in the European Union per capita, according to Our World in Data.

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, who bore the brunt of criticism because he was behind the country’s unique approach, is unapologetic. “Now, we’re two years into this and Sweden doesn’t really stand out,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times on Friday. “We’re not the best, but we’re definitely not the worst. That’s what I hear now: how much good did all these draconian [measures] do for anybody?”

Updated: November 12th 2021, 11:20 AM
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