Sweden expands coronavirus testing to include people with mild symptoms

Sweden will expand coronavirus testing to people with milder symptoms, as well as those working in critical services, following an announcement on Tuesday.

Tests in the country have so far have mostly been limited to patients in need of hospital care and healthcare staff, with 32,700 people tested in total last week.

“We can't have a situation where people stay at home at the slightest symptom if they don't need to be home,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren said.

The government currently recommends that anyone with coronavirus symptoms should stay home, including with a slight cough or sore throat, for example. Sweden has not imposed an enforced lockdown of the kind seen across lockdown but instead relied on mostly voluntary measures, including information campaigns reminding residents to keep distance in public and stay at home if they are even slightly ill.

Tests are currently distributed according to a tiered priority system. Patients in hospital and those in risk groups are considered the highest priority, followed by healthcare staff and then staff in different critical services, such as law enforcement and infrastructure.

Hallengren said people with symptoms that need care but not hospitalisation should be included in the top priority.

But the new prioritisation doesn't mean that everyone with mild symptoms will get a test. Their doctor will be the one to make the decision, based on how ill the patient is, which symptoms they have, and any underlying symptoms they may have.

“In some cases the answer from the doctor will be that there is no reason to test, and in other cases the doctor might think that 'if I know if you have Covid or not, I'm going to change my treatment in this situation'. Then [a test] can be relevant,” explained Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of the Public Health Agency's department for microbiology.

And the change also doesn't mean that everyone with mild symptoms needs to seek care from a doctor, according to the agency.

“If you're mildly ill, you should be at home. For the vast majority, this passes within a week or two. But if you are home for a longer time and you're worried for your health, it's important that you call and talk to your doctor about whether this can be looked into further,” explained Tegmark Wisell.

In mid-April the Swedish government said it planned to dramatically increase testing of up to 100,000 people a week, but it has struggled to roll out the plan.

“The testing capacity is there, but there are still difficulties with the logistics around it,” Harriet Wallberg, who was named the country's test coordinator in early May, told reporters.

Since the start of the outbreak, samples from nearly 210,000 people in Sweden have been tested so far. In Denmark, all adults have been told they will have the opportunity to be tested, and currently tests around 6,000 people per day.

Sweden on Tuesday reported there were a total of 30,799 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 3,743 deaths.

According to website Worldometer, Sweden's virus death rate stood at 371 per million inhabitants on Tuesday, compared to neighbouring Norway's 43, Denmark's 95, and Finland's 54, all who have adopted much stricter containment measures. 

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