Sweden sees highest daily number of COVID cases since December

·2-min read
Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lund

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden, which has rejected lockdowns throughout the pandemic, registered its highest number of new cases since the end of last year on Thursday amid what authorities said was flagging compliance with the mainly voluntary recommendations to curb the spread of the virus.

Sweden is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 with a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks after a slowdown in January and February. The country, which hit the global spotlight with its soft-touch approach to fighting the virus, registered 7,706 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest since Dec. 30.

"Unfortunately, the negative trend for infections continues, just as in many other countries in Europe now," Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference.

The new variants of the virus, above all the one first identified in Britain, are seen contributing to the fresh wave of cases, but the Civil Contingencies Agency also said surveys showed compliance with rules and recommendations was declining.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 16 new deaths, taking the total to 13,373. The health agency said deaths remained low for now, in part due to a large portion of the most vulnerable having been vaccinated.

"We have reached good vaccination coverage in the most important places in society. Among those living in nursing homes, we can see that 93% have received one dose and 87% have received two doses," Tegnell said.

Sweden said on Thursday it would resume use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65, after pausing last week following reports of rare blood clots in people vaccinated by the vaccine. [L8N2LN58C]

Sweden's death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours' but lower than in several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

A compilation of European excess mortality data on Wednesday showed Sweden had a lower increase in deaths than most European countries in 2020. [L1N2LM1EN]

(Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Johan Ahlander; Editing by Niklas Pollard)