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Swedish PM to appoint coronavirus inquiry before summer amid criticism

FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks during the government's press conference regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Stockholm, Sweden April 22, 2020. TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden will launch an inquiry into the country’s handling of the pandemic before the summer, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a newspaper interview on Monday, amid growing criticism over nursing home deaths and the lack of testing.

Lofven, whose Social Democrats rule in coalition with the Greens but also depend on backing from two centre-right parties, had previously said a commission would be appointed once the crisis was over but was under pressure to act sooner.

“We need to take an overall approach to see how it has worked at national, regional and local levels,” Lofven told Swedish daily Aftonbladet in an interview. “We will make a decision for a commission before the summer,” he said.

Sweden has taken a more liberal approach to combating the virus than its neighbours and has left most schools, restaurants and businesses open, relying on voluntary measures focused on good hygiene and social distancing to stem the outbreak.

More than 4,000 people in Sweden, roughly half of them nursing home residents, have died in the pandemic, a per capita rate many times higher than in other Nordic countries, all of which imposed tighter restrictions.

While the mortality rate over the course of the outbreak has been lower than in some countries that opted for hard lockdowns, such as Italy and Britain, Sweden had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe relative to the size of the population through parts of May.

Testing for the disease has also run well below the level in other Nordic countries, reaching only a third of the government’s target of 100,000 tests per week, sparking criticism from opposition parties on both the right and left.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard