STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's government said on Monday it will move ahead with a planned easing of pandemic restrictions this week but warned that new variants of the virus demanded vigilance as it urged people to adhere to social distancing recommendations.
Sweden has relied mainly on voluntary measures to stem the spread of infections, though curbs on opening hours for restaurants and limits on crowds at venues such as shopping malls have also been implemented.
Some restrictions have already been loosened and the country is set to remove limits on the number of passengers on long-distance transport such as trains and the number of shoppers allowed in stores on July 15.
"Things are steadily moving in the right direction in our country," Business and Industry Minister Ibrahim Baylan told a news conference. "Step by step, we are moving toward a society without restrictions."
After a third wave during the spring, the infection rate has fallen sharply across Sweden, easing pressure on hospitals, in a development attributed primarily to increasing vaccinations and warmer summer weather less conducive to infections.
A slew of restrictions were eased on July 1 and further steps are planned later this year, dependent on the course of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe has raised concerns.
Just over two-thirds of Sweden's adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine and the proportion of fully covered has been steadily rising toward 50%.
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)