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Sweden's prime minister said Thursday that he would keep a ban on large gatherings after the nation recorded its largest spike in new daily COVID-19 cases since July.
Sweden's approach to the pandemic has been controversial in that it never implemented a mandatory national lockdown. Instead, it called for personal responsibility, social distancing, masks and good hygiene to slow, rather than eradicate, the virus.
The results have been mixed. Sweden's COVID-19 caseload has been much lower than those of many other European countries, with 90,289. But its number of deaths - 5,878 as of Thursday - is significantly higher than those of its Nordic neighbors Finland and Norway, but low compared with figures from countries like Spain, Italy or Britain.
Sweden has recorded a gradual rise in new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, and 533 new cases were reported Thursday, the highest daily number since early July.
At a news briefing Thursday, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Swedes had become too relaxed about heeding anti-COVID-19 guidelines, and while they plan to lift a ban on visits to elder care homes, he said the government would not hesitate to implement further restrictions if new cases continued to rise.
Lofven blamed the recent spike in cases on people letting their guard down. He said, "The caution that existed in the spring has more and more been replaced by hugs, parties," and for many, an attempt to return to "normal life."
At a separate news conference Thursday, Sweden's state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, told reporters he believed the country has not seen the rapid spread and resurgence of the virus that other European countries have seen because the restrictions it did implement were left in place. Other countries, like Spain, locked down completely, then reopened.
Tegnell said it was also possible Sweden could experience the same type of surge in a few weeks.