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Sweden lifted almost all of its pandemic restrictions Wednesday and ended mass testing for the virus, joining a growing list of countries relaxing curbs and learning to live with the virus despite high numbers of infections.
As of Wednesday, Sweden will only provide free Covid-19 PCR tests to health care workers, elderly care workers and clinically vulnerable people showing symptoms of the disease.
People outside these groups, even if symptomatic, will not be able to get a free test but will be asked to stay at home.
Karin Tegmark Wisell, who leads the country’s public health agency, told broadcaster SVT the country had “reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable,” according to AP News.
Tegmark Wisell said maintaining the mass-testing program would cost the country around $220 million a month.
Sweden also lifted almost all of its pandemic restrictions on Wednesday, including limits on how many people can gather at events, vaccine certificates for certain indoor events and reduced operating hours for bars, though the government still recommends unvaccinated Swedes to avoid crowded places.
In a press conference announcing the lifting of restrictions in early February, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said it is “time to open up Sweden.” Andersson added: “The pandemic isn’t over, but it is moving into a new phase.”
The U.K. and Scandinavia—Sweden, Denmark and Norway—are now almost entirely free of Covid restrictions as the countries prepare to move beyond the pandemic. Though infections remain high, hospitalizations are relatively low, something officials say justify treating Covid-19 as we do other everyday illnesses like the seasonal flu. Experts warn the approach is premature and paints an overly optimistic picture of what “living with Covid” actually entails, as well as fundamentally misunderstanding what it means for a disease to be endemic.
What To Watch For
Data gaps. Mass Covid testing has been a vital tool for tracking the pandemic, identifying new variants and helping people know when to isolate. While rapid antigen tests are readily available to purchase in Sweden, they cannot provide the fine-grained information useful to experts monitoring the virus and results will not be reported to health authorities. The high cost of testing could lead to many countries taking a similar path and Denmark is set to close free testing in early March.