Sweden registered its lowest rate of positive coronavirus tests yet even as its testing regime has been expanded to record levels, in what some experts regard as a vindication of its comparatively unintrusive Covid-19 strategy.

Over the past week the country carried out more than 120,000 tests, of which only 1.3 per cent identified the disease. At the height of the pandemic the proportion was 19 per cent.

Johan Carlson, an epidemiologist and the director of the Swedish public health agency, said that Swedes seemed to be benefiting from widespread immunity because of the decision not to impose a full lockdown during the first wave.

"Our strategy was consistent and sustainable," Professor Carlson said. "We probably have a lower risk of [the virus] spreading than other countries."

In another striking illustration of the progress Sweden has made it is now recording fewer new cases per capita than Norway, which introduced one of Europe's earliest lockdowns, for the first time since April.

In Denmark, another Nordic country that initially seemed to have curbed Covid-19 through the imposition of tight restrictions, the infection rate has also risen much higher than the rate in Sweden.

Denmark and Norway have also largely reopened their borders to Swedes, although some quarantine measures have been put back in place as coronavirus has flared up again in Norway.

At the start of the pandemic the authorities in Stockholm reasoned that the disease would be a long-term challenge and that it would be better to allow the population to develop immunity to it while trying to protect those most at risk.

The government advised people to work from home where they could but left most of the country open, including bars, restaurants and schools for all except the oldest pupils.

It also declined to recommend the use of masks in shops or on trains and buses, although it requires people to keep at least 1.5m apart in public.

In the early months many critics argued that this approach was recklessly laissez-faire.

Some scientists predicted that as many as 180,000 people could die in a country of 10.2 million.

Those estimates proved to be drastically overblown: up to now there have been 5,838 Covid-19 deaths. In per capita terms this is the fifth highest death rate in Europe, behind only Belgium, the UK, Spain and Italy, but it has also fallen substantially since the summer. Only seven people died with the disease in the past week.

The government has also invested many more resources in testing, which had previously been limited to healthcare workers, risk groups and patients with the gravest symptoms.

The country now carries out nearly three times as many tests each day as it did in early June. The guidelines vary between the different regions, with regular virus and antibody testing in hotspots such as Stockholm, the centre of the epidemic.

The country now offers coronavirus tests to anyone with apparent symptoms and has put in place a system to track down and test each infected patient's contacts.

The marked decline in the proportion of tests that are positive may partly reflect this broader testing strategy. In Germany, where testing has been extended to people returning from risk zones abroad, the level is as low as 0.7 per cent.

The true extent of immunity remains difficult to gauge. Anders Tegnell, the state's pugnacious chief epidemiologist, has claimed that up to 30 per cent of Swedes may by now have overcome the virus.

Yet a recent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine by two researchers based in the UK said that herd immunity — in which a clear majority of the population has some degree of resistance to the disease — was "nowhere in sight".


Nightclubs have been ordered to close in British Columbia in a effort to halt the spread of coronavirus. The province's top medical official, Bonnie Henry, said she was ordering the closure to reverse recent spikes in the outbreak of Covid-19.

Dr Henry says there have been 429 new cases in British Columbia since Friday.

The province also recorded two additional deaths, both of them in care homes.

As part of a package of measures, the province will ban alcohol sales at bars and restaurants after 10pm, and they must close entirely by 11pm. The recent increases in the number of cases has been blamed on younger people increasingly socialising and ignoring social-distancing rules.

Dr Henry said the province needed to focus on getting children back to school and people back to work, which means cutting down on social interactions in other areas. "We now need to put our focus and attention on the important things," she said.

"Yes, I do think these are necessary actions right now," she added. "We do it for things we think will make a difference. It became apparent that some venues were really high-risk environments."


The cabinet will hold its weekly meeting remotely for the first time since the end of the virus lockdown, after the prime minister, Jean Castex, spent part of the weekend with the boss of the Tour de France who tested positive for Covid-19.

Mr Castex, who had met other ministers over the last days, will have another test seven days after the contact with Christian Prudhomme. Today's cabinet meeting would take place by video conference, the government said.

This will be the first time this has happened since the end of France's two-month anti-coronavirus lockdown in May.

President Macron said yesterday he had taken a Covid-19 test, which was negative, after visiting both Lebanon and Iraq in the last days.

Concern has been growing over the risk of a second wave of the epidemic in France, with the number of new cases surging even though the death rate remains relatively low compared with the highs in the spring.

The authorities said 6,544 new infections were recorded on Tuesday.