Sweden readies new measures as COVID-19 cases accelerate

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency listens at a news conference on the coronavirus pandemic situation in Stockholm, Sweden October 22, 2020. Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Sweden is preparing new measures to try to curb a resurgence in COVID-19 cases as the coronavirus strain first detected in Britain spreads rapidly, the architect of Sweden's pandemic strategy said on Tuesday.

Sweden has avoided lockdowns throughout the pandemic. But health statistics agency figures on Tuesday showed 10,933 new coronavirus cases had been registered since Friday, a rise from 9,458 in the corresponding period the previous week.

"The British variant is increasing very fast," Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference. "This variant will with fairly high probability be the dominant one within a few weeks or a month."

"We have a package (of national measures) being readied that will be presented tomorrow," he said, giving no details.

The British coronavirus variant is thought by scientists to be a more infectious strain. Cases of the South African and Brazilian strains have also been detected but are not spreading quickly, Tegnell said.

Concerns about a possible third wave of the pandemic have been growing in Sweden in recent weeks as the number of new infections rose and the new variants spread.

The centre-left government has laid the ground for potential lockdown measures to an extent not seen earlier during the pandemic.

Several of Sweden's largest regions, including Stockholm on Tuesday, have also taken steps, such as recommending the use of masks in shops, workplaces and public transport. This is at odds with the health agency's past reluctance to broadly endorse such moves because of limited evidence of their efficacy.

Sweden, a country of 10 million people, has registered 12,713 deaths from COVID-19. The death rate per capita is much higher than its Nordic neighbours' but lower than in several countries in Europe that opted for lockdowns.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander; editing by Niklas Pollard and Timothy Heritage

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