Sweden to expand coronavirus testing as death toll rises to 180

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STOCKHOLM, March 31 (Xinhua) -- The number of COVID-19 fatalities continues to rise in Sweden, where the government introduced on Tuesday a ban on visits to elderly homes and vowed to expand testing.

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has been tasked with devising a national strategy for expanding testing for COVID-19, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced at a Tuesday press conference.

According to a statement published on the website of the Agency, it will coordinate the work with regional councils, municipalities and other actors to ensure testing can be carried out in a safe and high-quality manner across the country.

"It is important that the groups that are prioritized today are also guaranteed testing going forward," said Karin Tegmark Wisell, a division head at the Agency, referring to healthcare sector personnel and others who are already first in line to be tested. However, the healthcare sector has raised alarms that the current level of testing is insufficient.

Up till now, testing has in effect been limited to hospitalized patients and elderly care home residents, as well as to carers and healthcare personnel, but the capacity for testing has been too low, said Wisell.

According to Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren, Sweden had up until Sunday tested 36,000 people and, she said at the press conference on Tuesday, the aim now is to carry out between 20,000 and 30,000 tests per week.

Meanwhile, ski resort operator Skistar announced on Tuesday evening that it would close down its facilities for the rest of the winter season in an effort to limit traveling in the country over the upcoming Easter holiday. The announcement followed Lofven's press conference in which he urged Swedes to cancel their Easter travel plans and stay home.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sweden stood at 4,435 and 358 patients have been or are being treated in intensive care units. Of the 180 dead, 105 were men and 75 were women. Enditem

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