STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's daily tally of new COVID-19 cases fell to its lowest since late May on Tuesday, a sharp reversal from June when expanded testing fuelled record numbers in a country that drew global attention for its rejection of a lockdown.
Cases in the Nordic country have declined sharply over the past few days and on Tuesday only 283 new cases were recorded.
That contrasts with a torrid month of June when daily numbers ran as high as 1,800, eclipsing rates across much of Europe, even as deaths and hospitalisations continued to decline from peaks in April.
Sweden was slow to ramp up testing for any but the seriously ill and healthcare workers, but weekly numbers for tests have more than doubled since late may, putting the country in the same bracket as extensively testing nations such as Germany.
Health Agency Director General Johan Carlson said the slow expansion of testing had left the country with a "testing debt" that produced a surge in cases when thousands with mostly mild symptoms rushed to get the tests suddenly available to them.
"In all likelihood, this was a mountain that we needed to dig away at," he told a news conference.
Against the backdrop of a surge in new confirmed cases through much of June, many countries, including Nordic neighbours, kept borders closed to Swedish travellers, a situation the sharp decline might begin to alter, Carlson said.
"We are beginning to approach levels that other countries find acceptable," he said.
The country adopted a softer approach to fighting the new coronavirus, spurning a hard lockdown and keeping most schools and business open throughout the outbreak while urging the population to maintain social distancing and other precautions.
The death toll relative to the size of the population has been many times higher than those of its Nordic neighbours, where authorities took a stricter approach, but lower than in some countries that locked down, such as Britain and Italy.
Sweden's COVID-19 death rate has gradually fallen from peaks well above 100 a day in April.
Health Agency data showed 14 new COVID-19 deaths were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the total to 5,447, more than half of which have occurred at nursing homes and among the elderly receiving home care services.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Colm Fulton; writing by Niklas Pollard, Editing by William Maclean)
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