Sweden has halted wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even among people showing symptoms of an infection, putting an end to the mobile city-square tent sites, drive-in swab centers and home-delivered tests that became ubiquitous during the pandemic and provided essential data for tracking its spread.
The move puts the Scandinavian nation at odds with most of Europe, but some experts say it could become the norm as costly testing yields fewer benefits with the easily transmissible but milder omicron variant and as governments begin to consider treating COVID-19 like they do other endemic illnesses.
“We have reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable.” Swedish Public Health Agency chief Karin Tegmark Wisell told the national broadcast SVT this week.
“If we were to have extensive testing adapted to everyone who has COVID-19, that would mean half a billion kronor a week (about $55 million) and 2 billion a month ($220 million),” Tegmark Wisell added.
Starting Wednesday, only health care and elderly care workers and the most vulnerable will be entitled to free PCR testing if they are symptomatic, while the rest of the population will simply be asked to stay home if they show symptoms that could be COVID-19.
Antigen tests are readily available for purchase in supermarkets and pharmacies, but those results aren’t reported to health authorities. Private health care providers can also perform tests and offer certificates for international travel, but the cost won’t be reimbursed by the state or health insurance.
High vaccination rates in Sweden are creating optimism among health officials and a late 2020 study released Tuesday showing antibodies present in 85% of samples.
Photo – A health worker collects Covid-19 PCR tests at Covid testing site of Svagertorp, Malmoe, Sweden. EPA-EFE/JOHAN NILSSON SWEDEN OUT
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