Sweden sees clear drop in COVID cases despite scrapped curbs

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A sign encourages people using public transportation to maintain social distance as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Stockholm, Sweden November 4, 2020. Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN./File Photo

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STOCKHOLM, March 3 (Reuters) - COVID-19 cases in Sweden are falling sharply, the country's health agency said on Thursday, even as nearly all pandemic-related restrictions were lifted less than a month ago.

The government removed curbs on restaurant opening hours and attendance limits for indoor venues on Feb. 9, in a move that drew criticism from scientists at the time. read more

The number of cases is difficult to assess in Sweden given reduced testing, but the proportion of positive cases and the number of patients requiring hospital care have both declined.

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"There are no indications that the opening increased spread so we asses that it was relevant and correct," Health Agency Director-General Karin Tegmark Wisell told a news conference.

"We feel very comfortable with the situation, regardless of the spread, as we have such a level of vaccination and that the Omicron variant results in less serious disease," she said.

The number of patients requiring intensive care was 53 on Thursday, down 24 from last week, while the total number reuiring care fell to 1,300 from about 1,600.

Sweden stood out during the first year of the pandemic, shunning lockdowns and instead focusing on voluntary steps to promote social distancing and good hygiene.

More than 17,000 Swedes have died from or with COVID, many times higher per capita than in its Nordic neighbours, but less than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.

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Reporting by Johan Ahlander Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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