Europe

Sweden could impose new COVID-19 measures next week as cases rise

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STOCKHOLM, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Sweden could impose new restrictions as early as next week to fight the coronavirus pandemic and a rising tide of infections, its public health agency said on Thursday.

New measures could include general advice such as keeping a distance from other people and wearing a face mask on public transport, the agency said, but gave no precise details.

It also said it might recommend employers to enable staff to "to some degree" work from home.

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Sweden, which has detected six cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, introduced vaccine passes for indoor events with more than 100 people from Dec. 1 and had indicated additional measures might be needed to curb the spread of the virus.

Omicron is thought to be more transmissible than earlier variants.

"Due to this, we have scaled up our typing and sequencing," Britta Bjorkholm, head of department at the Swedish Public Health Agency, told a news conference, adding that COVID-19 infections appeared to be continuing to increase.

Health Minister Lena Hallengren said the government and the health agency would present a common plan next week. "We are facing an uncertain winter," she said.

Much remains unknown about the new Omicron variant, which was first found last month in southern Africa and has spread to at least two dozen countries.

Sweden's first confirmed case of the variant was detected on Monday.

Sweden abolished most of its COVID-19 restrictions as the vaccine rollout reached a large part of the population earlier this year and infection rates remained subdued.

Unlike many European countries, Sweden has not experienced a new wave of infections but there have been early signs the pandemic is picking up pace, although hospitalisations remain relatively low.

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Reporting by Helena Soderpalm; editing by Niklas Pollard, Jason Neely and Susan Fenton

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