Sweden reports record daily rise in new COVID-19 cases

Woman strolls through the Sodermalm area of Stockholm

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden, whose light-touch pandemic strategy has gained global attention, registered 1,870 new coronavirus cases on October 23, the highest since the start of the pandemic, Health Agency statistics showed on Tuesday.

The increase compares with a high of 1,698 daily cases recorded in late June. The Health Agency has said the peak during the spring probably ran far higher but went unrecorded due to a lack of testing at the time.

Sweden has seen a steady increase in new cases in recent weeks though the resurgence of the disease has come later than in wide swaths of Europe and not so far hit the kind of peaks recorded in countries such as Belgium and the Czech Republic.

However, outbreaks in some regions have prompted authorities to tighten local social distancing recommendations there, a step taken for Skane, in the far south of Sweden, on Tuesday.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden's chief epidemiologist, said the increase in cases was starting to affect the healthcare system.

"We see a small but significant increase each week in the number of cases submitted to intensive care," he told a news conference. "In Sweden too, we are beginning to approach a critical point."

Still, the National Board of Health and Welfare, said the healthcare situation was still under control even if numbers were rising. It said 55 patients were receiving intensive care on Monday, up from 34 on Oct. 21.

"The capacity of intensive care places remains very good, with 27 percent vacancies nationally," said Irene Nilsson Carlsson, senior public health adviser at the health and welfare authority.

New COVID-19 deaths remain low and Sweden's official death toll had decreased by 15 cases since Friday, taking the total to 5,918 deaths. No explanation was given for the lowered figure but the count has previously been changed after the actual cause of death had been determined to be unrelated to the disease in a small number of cases.

Sweden's death toll per capita is several times higher than Nordic neighbours but lower than some larger European countries, such as Spain and Britain.

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