STOCKHOLM (REUTERS) - Sweden scrapped almost all of its few pandemic restrictions on Wednesday (Feb 9) and stopped most testing for Covid-19, even as the pressure on the healthcare 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 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 (S$70 million) a 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.