Sweden extends pandemic curbs amid tentative signs of slowing outbreak

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden extended distance learning for high school students and told public employees to continue to work from home, renewing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic despite signs that infections are beginning to slow.

FILE PHOTO: The Oresund bridge is seen after the Swedish government decided to close the border to visitors from Denmark, to fight the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Malmo, Sweden, December 21, 2020. TT News Agency/Johan Nilsson via REUTERS

Sweden has avoided the kind of lockdown seen across much of Europe, but has gradually tightened restrictions after being hit by a second wave of COVID-19 infections in autumn last year.

Those measures seem to be bearing fruit with authorities cautiously optimistic that, in some parts of the country, the situation is improving.

The government said it nevertheless needed to extend many of the measures aimed at social distancing.

“We can see a cautious downturn in the spread of infection in some regions, but the situation remains serious,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters at a news conference.

The government extended distance learning for high schools, but also adjusted its stance, recommending a mixture of distance learning and normal lessons in school.

High schools switched to distance learning for a period in spring last year and again in December. Schools for younger students have mainly been kept open, with some individual exceptions.

Despite the brighter outlook, the government also extended a ban on sales of alcohol in the evenings by two weeks and said commuters should continue to wear face masks on public transport during rush hours through the spring.

Sweden has been skeptical about the use of face masks, with no recommendations about their use in public until late December.

On Wednesday, Sweden registered 4,702 new cases, well down on a daily peak in late December. In total, there have been 10,797 COVID-related deaths in Sweden, a rate per capita many times higher than that of Norway, Finland and Denmark, but lower than some European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Johannes Hellstrom and Niklas Pollard