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STOCKHOLM — The Swedish government will lift most Covid restrictions next week, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced on Thursday. The move adds Sweden to the growing list of European countries, including Denmark and Norway, that are dropping pandemic protocols even as new cases continue to soar in Europe.
From February 9, there will be no limit on the number of people who can gather in restaurants, sports stadiums and other events, according to Lena Hallengren, Minister of Health and Social Care. People will no longer be forced to work from home. And travel restrictions on visitors from other Nordic countries will be eased.
“The pandemic is not over, but we are heading into a new phase,” Ms Andersson said at a press conference on Thursday.
She pointed to research suggesting that while record numbers of people in Sweden test positive for the Omicron variant, they are straining hospitals less than previous coronavirus surges.
The Swedish Public Health Authority reported that the average number of new coronavirus cases reported daily in Sweden peaked in late January and, although still high, is now falling. As of Thursday, Sweden, a country of about 10.3 million people, reported a total of more than 2.2 million confirmed cases, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and more of 16,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Over 73% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far.
Ms Anderson said the country will continue to recommend people take special precautions in certain situations – for example, that unvaccinated people avoid indoor events.
A number of Sweden’s neighbors and other members of the European Union announced the relaxation of their pandemic rules last week. Nightclubs in Denmark are reopening and the government has said it no longer considers Covid a “socially critical disease”. Norway is dropping its testing requirements for arriving travelers who are fully vaccinated. And Finland has said it will end all of its remaining restrictions this month.
Although Europe is still reporting large numbers of new cases, a senior World Health Organization official in the region said on Thursday that the Omicron surge gave the region an opportunity to bring virus transmission under control. and to achieve “lasting peace” with the coronavirus.
So many people will now have some level of immunity, either from vaccination or from surviving an infection, that the region could enter a “period of heightened protection”, which should be seen as a “cease fire” and “a plausible endgame” in the pandemic, the official, Dr. Hans Kluge, told reporters during a virtual press conference. Scientists have warned that protection against a previous infection may diminish over time and not apply as well to future versions of the virus.
Dr Kluge is the Regional Director for the WHO European Region, which includes all of Europe, plus Israel and all of the former Soviet Union, including the Central Asian republics – more than 50 countries in all.
Hospitalizations continue to rise in the region, mainly in countries where vaccination rates among the most vulnerable segments of the population are relatively low, he said, while the number of hospitalizations and deaths in Covid-related intensive care in the region has started to plateau.
Dr. Kluge’s comments were more optimistic than recent remarks by other WHO officials, who have expressed concern over the prospect of countries using Omicron’s relatively lower severity as a reason to abandon drug protocols. pandemic.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s chief executive, said this week that it was “premature” for a country to declare victory over a virus that “continues to evolve before our eyes”.
Dr Kluge cautioned against thinking the pandemic was over, saying achieving lasting relief from the coronavirus would depend heavily on vaccination and increasing the population of countries, promoting responsible behavior and the protection of the most vulnerable.