'We need help,' says Stockholm healthcare chief as COVID fills intensive care wards

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The head of Stockholm’s health service appealed to national authorities on Wednesday to send specialist nurses and other hospital staff as it struggles to cope with a second wave of COVID infections that has filled intensive care wards in Sweden’s capital city.

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Sweden, which has not opted for the kind of lockdown adopted by many other European nations, has suffered many times more COVID-19 deaths per capita than its Nordic neighbours, with the total reaching almost 7,300 on Wednesday.

Stockholm and the surrounding region are among the areas hardest hit with 2,836 deaths. Infection rates are picking up again after a lull in the summer and autumn, and intensive care wards are now full.

“We need help,” Bjorn Eriksson, the director of healthcare for the Stockholm region, told a news conference.

There were 814 COVID-19 patients being treated in Stockholm hospitals and geriatric wards on Wednesday, up from 748 last Friday, the region said. That compares with roughly 1,100 patients during the spring outbreak of the disease.

Eriksson said 83 patients were treated in intensive care in Stockholm.

“That corresponds more or less to all intensive care beds we normally have,” he said.

Faced by a surge in new cases in recent weeks, Sweden’s government has tightened restrictions on public gatherings while high schools have been told to switch to distance learning for the rest of the term.

On Wednesday the government said it wanted parliament to grant it more power to implement lockdown measures such as closing shopping malls and gyms.

So far, however, measures have mostly been voluntary and media have been full of pictures of crowded shopping streets in the run-up to Christmas.

Eriksson called for stricter adherence to the government’s guidelines to help relieve the pressure on the healthcare system.

“Enough is enough. It simply cannot be worth it, to have after-work drinks and hustle of Christmas present shopping ... The consequences are horrible,” he said.