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Hospitals under pressure as COVID-19 cases surge in Swedish capital

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Hospitals in the Swedish capital are struggling to cope with a surge in new cases of COVID-19 after seeing an increase of around 75 patients requiring hospital care since the end of last week, the local authority said on Monday.

A sign reminding people to respect social distancing is seen amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Central Station in Stockholm, Sweden November 09, 2020. TT News Agency/Amir Nabizadeh via REUTERS

The number of new cases has surged across the Nordic nation in recent weeks, rising past peaks hit during the spring, although a huge increase in testing since the pandemic struck early in the year makes comparisons difficult.

Sweden’s biggest region, Stockholm, is again among the areas hardest hit by infections and hospitalisations after a spring and early summer when it accounted for well over a third of the country’s more than 6,000 dead in the pandemic.

“We can see today a large increase in the number of patients who have become so ill with COVID-19 that they need to be treated in hospital,” Bjorn Eriksson, the director of healthcare for the region of Stockholm, said in a statement.

“The pressure on our front-line hospitals is significant.”

There were 349 COVID-19 patients being treated in Stockholm hospitals and geriatric wards on Monday, up from 273 on Friday, the region said. Other areas, centered around cities such as Gothenburg and Malmo, have also seen hospitalisations mount.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has also climbed in a country that gained international attention for a strategy that rejected lockdowns and still mainly relies on voluntary social distancing recommendations.

In Stockholm, 20.3% of the about 42,000 people tested last week were shown to be infected, up from 16.3% in the previous week and 8.4% in the week before that, a spokeswoman for the region’s Karolinska University Hospital said.

Sweden registered 4,697 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the latest in a string of new record daily increases.

The country has seen a higher number of cases than its Nordic neighbours since the start of the outbreak and a far higher number of deaths in relation to the size of its population, though fewer than countries such as Spain.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard