June 2, 2020 / 2:36 PM / a month ago

Swedish coronavirus testing hits record but still far below target

FILE PHOTO: A medical staff wearing a protective gear, administers tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a test facility, in a tent outside the Skane University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, April 29, 2020. TT News Agency/ Johan Nilsson via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s testing for the new coronavirus rose last week to its highest level since the outbreak began but still fell far short of the target, in what has increasingly become a focal point of criticism of the government’s pandemic policy.

Last week 36,500 people in Sweden were tested for the coronavirus, an increase from 29,000 in the preceding week but still less than a government target set in mid-April for 100,000 weekly tests, data from the country’s health authority showed.

The country has tested 275,500 samples since the pandemic began, a much lower rate of testing than in its Nordic neighbours. Denmark has carried out more than double Sweden’s total despite having only half the population.

Unlike much of Europe, most schools, restaurants and businesses have remained open in Sweden, with authorities relying on voluntary measures focused on good hygiene and social distancing to stem the outbreak.

Yet 4,468 people have died in the outbreak in Sweden, a per capita rate many times higher than in other Nordic countries, all of which imposed tighter restrictions.

Testing in Sweden had been largely restricted to patients in hospitals and healthcare staff. It is set to be expanded to more groups with the government urging regional authorities to ramp up testing in a process that has been marred with confusion over whose responsibility it is.

With tests for the active disease still hard to come by, the launch of antibody testing by private players last week saw hundreds of Stockholmers queuing be tested in the city centre.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said there will be an inquiry soon into the country’s handling of the pandemic as criticism has grown over nursing home deaths as well as the lack of testing.

Reporting by Colm Fulton; editing by Niklas Pollard

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