Swedish MPs honour virus victims

Swedish parliamentarians have attended a memorial ceremony for the victims of COVID-19

Flags have flown at half-mast in front of Sweden's parliament as MPs inside held a memorial service for the more than 5000 people with COVID-19 who have died in a country that declined the strict lockdown measures widely adopted in Europe.

Members of the 349-seat Riksdag stood up to observe a minute of silence during the 15-minute memorial.

The Swedish government steadfastly defends its soft approach to controlling the spread of the coronavirus despite growing criticism from opposition parties.

"This particular moment is for all of them: those who lost their jobs, their health, their lives," Riksdag Speaker Andreas Norlen said.

"We say to all those who now mourn and suffer: you are not alone."

Sweden has the most virus-related deaths in the Nordic region, with 5041 reported as of Wednesday.

However, the number of COVID-19 deaths recorded daily has declined, and weekly statistics show that mortality is now close to normal for this time of year after peaking in April.

A number of European countries have maintained travel restrictions on visitors from Sweden due to the country's rate of new confirmed cases.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Tuesday he thought it was "a little strange" that fellow Nordic countries - Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland - have not reopened their borders to Swedes.

"I have to respect what other countries decide," Lofven said in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen in which he noted that the number of virus-related deaths in Sweden "is going down considerably now".

Denmark, Norway and Finland have in recent weeks allowed each other's residents to enter their countries.

Lofven's government never imposed a lockdown or ordered business to close.

Large gatherings were banned but restaurants and schools for young children have stayed open.

The government urged social distancing and people have largely complied.