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Sweden Latest European Country to Lift COVID Restrictions


FILE - People wait for their turn to enter Stockholm's City Hall that temporarily served as a COVID-19 vaccination site, in Stockholm, Sweden, Feb. 21, 2021.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced Thursday the nation would end its remaining COVID-19 related restrictions on February 9, making the Scandinavian country the latest European nation to remove or scale back pandemic measures.

Speaking to reporters at a Stockholm news conference, Andersson cited “an improved understanding of the disease,” as well as less pressures on the health care system relative to the rate of infection, and the sharply rising vaccination rate.

She said Sweden will lift its mask requirements for public transportation, capacity limits for bars and restaurant, as well as all proof of vaccination requirements. Andersson also said employers with staff working from home should make a plan “for a gradual return to the workplace."

Sweden joins Denmark, Norway and France as one of the latest European countries that have begun to remove or at least scale back COVID-19-restrictions.

Andersson said she is not declaring the pandemic over, but Sweden was entering a new phase.

Her comments come the same day as the World Health Organization’s European regional office made comments that might support her decision.

At his own virtual news briefing from his office in Copenhagen, Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said he can see a “plausible endgame” for the pandemic in Europe.

He said while new infections continued in the past week at record levels, hospitalizations, while up, have not risen at the same pace, and deaths have plateaued.

Kluge said there is now, for the first time in the pandemic, a chance to gain control of transmission of the coronavirus. He said thanks to vaccinations and immunity gained from contracting COVID-19, and the now-established lower severity of the omicron variant, there is a level of population defense against any resurge in transmission.

He said this period of higher protection should be seen as a “cease-fire” that could bring us enduring peace, as long as vaccination and booster rates are maintained.

Despite that announcement, the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, proposed Thursday a one-year extension of the bloc’s digital COVID-19 certificates aimed at facilitating travel across the 27-nation bloc during the pandemic, until the end of June 2023.

Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters in Brussels that while they look forward to the day that proof-of-vaccination certificates will not be needed, COVID-19 continues to be prevalent in Europe. He said Europe also needs to be ready for any new infection surges in the second half of the year or for the emergence of new variants.

To take effect, the extension proposal would have to be accepted by EU members and the European Parliament.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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