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17 Apr, 2020 17:31

Sweden to roll out mass testing in Covid-19 strategy overhaul as national case numbers continue to grow

Sweden to roll out mass testing in Covid-19 strategy overhaul as national case numbers continue to grow

Sweden plans to drastically ramp up testing for coronavirus after its previous approach has left it with more confirmed cases and deaths than fellow Nordic countries.

The government’s new goal is carrying out 50,000 to 100,000 tests per week, Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told reporters on Friday.

She added that it is “hard to accurately forecast when we can reach these numbers,” and the process itself will take“weeks.” Hallengren said that mass testing will reveal the extent of the outbreak in Sweden, while also helping individuals decide whether they should go to work or stay at home.

Nearly 74,600 people had been tested as of Wednesday in Sweden – a country of 10.2 million. Although the government has managed to gradually increase the testing rate to almost 19,900 people per week, it is still a far cry from the new target set by the health minister. 

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During the early stages of the outbreak, officials tested anyone returning from high-risk regions abroad or who had come into contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19. However, Sweden then changed its approach, focusing on testing only hospitalized patients and people working in its health service and elderly care, rather than all possible cases. Those with flu-like symptoms were simply advised to stay home until they were symptom-free for at least two days, and not required to seek a test.

Sweden has been refusing to impose a strict nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the pandemic. Meanwhile, its total number of confirmed coronavirus cases, as well as its resulting death toll, is higher than in fellow Nordic countries, which is why the strategy has sparked debate and criticism at home.

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A total of 12,540 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Sweden, and 1,333 patients have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. By comparison, Denmark and Norway have 6,879 and 6,791 cases respectively, and fewer deaths.

On Tuesday, a group of 22 researchers penned an op-ed in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, pointing out that Sweden has roughly 10 times as many confirmed Covid-19 cases as neighboring Finland, which adopted more restrictive quarantine rules, such as closing down businesses providing non-essential services and banning public gatherings. The government must now step in and implement more “swift and radical measures” in order to fight the disease, they argued.

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