Sweden COVID death toll tops 12,000 as health agency warns of third wave

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing protective masks enter an underground railway station, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Stockholm, Sweden, January 7, 2021. Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden, which has attracted global attention for its soft-touch pandemic response, registered 89 new COVID-19 related deaths on Thursday, taking the total above 12,000, Health Agency statistics showed.

With 12,028 deaths registered since the start of the pandemic, Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than its Nordic neighbours, but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

New COVID infections in Sweden have decreased in recent weeks and the Health Agency said it had registered 3,758 new cases over the last 24 hours.

However, the number of people with the mutation first identified in Britain - which may be more infectious - has picked up and health officials said it was too soon to ease the rules.

“There is a high risk of a third wave if we are not resilient,” chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said.

“It shows a need for the restrictions we have in place to reduce the spread of infection.”

The government on Thursday extended its ban on alcohol sales after 8 p.m. and told public sector employees to work from home until May 31.

It said it was preparing to launch a digital coronavirus “vaccine passport” by the summer if an international standard can be agreed.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson and Anna Ringstrom; editing by Johannes Hellstrom and Giles Elgood