Sweden’s new plan to extend coronavirus testing: Here’s how it should work

Sweden's new plan to extend coronavirus testing: Here's how it should work
Diagnostic tests will be free for the individual. Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB scanpix / TT
Sweden's government and regions have reached an agreement on how coronavirus testing will be carried out to allow many more people with symptoms to be tested.

Sweden has had low testing rates compared to its Nordic neighbours and many other countries throughout the outbreak, and fallen short of its own goal of carrying out 100,000 weekly tests by mid-May.

The government recently announced a major overhaul to testing, promising a further 5.9 billion kronor to cover costs and pledging that many more people with symptoms of the virus but not in need of medical care would receive diagnostic tests.

Now the government and regions have agreed that Sweden's 21 regions will organise and carry out coronavirus tests on this group of people, with the government covering the costs.

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The tests in question are diagnostic tests, which show whether you have the virus at that time, and now antibody tests, which can show whether you've previously had the virus.

The individual will not have to pay anything for these tests, even though healthcare is not free in Sweden until you reach a so-called 'high-cost ceiling'.

But just having symptoms and wanting a test won't be enough to get a referral. You'll also need a “medical assessment”, meaning a doctor, nurse or other medical professional decides whether you should have the test.

This might be done through a digital appointment, phone call, or some other solution. General advice remains to avoid going in person to a doctor's surgery in case of mild symptoms, and instead to seek help online or via the phone.

“I'm glad that we can now clear up the confusion that there was around testing, and really hope that this will be the start of facilitating large-scale testing, while bearing in mind the development of the pandemic and regional differences,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren told reporters.

She said the reason that a medical referral was required was so that the healthcare system was involved, in order to take any necessary steps such as contact-tracing when the tests are positive.

For antibody testing, which is done to find out if you've already had and recovered from Covid-19, the government will also pay the regions for the costs of the tests.

But most individuals will still have to pay for these tests. There are several exceptions, with free antibody tests for healthcare professionals, elderly care professionals, and people who are resident in care facilities or receive home care. But other members of the general population will have to cover the costs themselves.

So when will it be possible to get the tests if you suspect you may have the virus? No fixed timeline has been announced, though Public Health Agency general director Johan Carlson told Swedish TV earlier this month that it should be possible for people in all regions to begin booking their tests by June 13th.

However, it's the regions themselves who organise the tests, and testing numbers have so far remained much lower than the national goal, due to bottlenecks in the system and a lack of capacity in the healthcare system. When asked by SVT, only five of the 21 regions said they were on track to reach that goal, including Sörmland, Östergötland, Norrbotten, Jönköping and Västra Götaland, while four, including Stockholm, Skåne, Uppsala and Västerbotten, said they weren't sure.

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