Coronavirus cases hit daily record in Sweden as tests ramp up

STOCKHOLM, June 11 (Reuters) - Sweden announced its highest daily tally of novel coronavirus infections on Thursday, a record 1,474 new cases that authorities said was due to a long-delayed surge in testing.

The country’s tactics to contain the epidemic have come under close scrutiny since it eschewed a lockdown in favour of mainly voluntary measures and its chief epidemiologist acknowledged last week it could have done more.

Thursday’s figure took the total number of infections to 48,300 - though the Public Health Agency said the number of deaths was slowing.

The rise in new cases “is a direct consequence of increasing testing in the regions and catching cases with mild symptoms,” the head of microbiology at the agency, Karin Tegmark-Wisell, told a news conference.

“It has been a slow upturn, but now it seems that the effect of increased testing is becoming clear.”

Facing growing criticism from the opposition over a sluggish expansion of testing, the government last week pledged a further 5.9 billion crowns ($639 million) to increase testing and widen contact tracing across the country.

Deaths in Sweden caused by the disease have gradually declined from peak levels in mid-April of about 100 per day with the seven-day rolling average hitting 37 per day at the beginning of June, Tegmark-Wisell said.

The agency reported 19 new deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 4,814 - many times higher per capita than in neighbouring Nordic countries, but lower than the worst-hit parts of Europe including Spain, Britain and Italy.

Tests hit a record 49,200 last week, up from 36,500 the previous week, the agency said.

“For an accurate picture of how the pandemic is developing, it is useful to look at the people treated for COVID-19,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a separate briefing.

“We can see that the number of people treated in intensive care is decreasing at a slow but steady rate.”

$1 = 9.2364 Swedish crowns Reporting by Johan Ahlander; additional reporting by Simon Johnson; writing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Andrew Heavens