Sweden just met its coronavirus testing target for the first time

Sweden just met its coronavirus testing target for the first time
A coronavirus self-test kit. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Sweden last week increased the number of tests carried out for Covid-19 by nearly 50 percent, meeting a national goal of over 100,000 tests a week for the first time since it was set in mid-April.

Sweden carried out 126,219 tests for ongoing coronavirus infection between August 31st and September 6th, up from 85,060 the week before, the Public Health Agency of Sweden has reported.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the agency's director, Johan Carlson, said that it was encouraging that the country had managed to increase testing without seeing an accompanying rise in the number of positive diagnoses.

“In week 36 we had around 126,000 tested, which is a significant increase, but we still had falling numbers, which is positive,” he said. 

Around 1,300 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Sweden last week (although there is a slight lag in how the regions report their data), which was more than the roughly 1,200 positive tests of the previous week, but the share of positive tests fell week-to-week from 1.6 percent to 1.2 percent.

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At the press conference, Carlson underlined that the superspreading events and local outbreaks which now seem characteristic of coronavirus meant that Sweden could not afford to be complacent.  

“We need to have a high level of preparedness to spot local outbreaks, and that's something we're working very hard on now,” he said.

This is the first time Sweden meets the target it set back in spring to test 100,000 people a week, which the government later backed away from after the regions who run the country's healthcare complained it was too difficult to achieve – even though laboratory capacity had been ramped up to be able to meet the target.

Carlson acknowledged that it had taken “a number of weeks” before Sweden had managed to put in place “proper testing”.

It was not immediately clear what caused the huge week-on-week increase in testing last week, but contributing factors may be that Sweden has been working to improve its test-and-trace procedures, including the government promising to foot the bill for tests and making it easier even for people with mild symptoms to get tested.

And last week the health agency brought in new testing guidelines, with the agency now recommending that primary school age children should also be tested if they show respiratory symptoms.

Also last week, around 8,000 university students and staff in Umeå were tested as part of a mass testing scheme to research how the start of term affects the spread of coronavirus. Of those, only two people tested positive.

Testing data for last week was not available on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) at the time of publication, but Sweden has previously been lagging behind many of its neighbours. During the week of August 24th-30th, Sweden had a testing rate of 831.5 per 100,000 people, behind Denmark at 4,192.5 and Norway at 1,618.8, according to ECDC.

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