STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden has seen an increased spread of the British COVID-19 variant, with 11% of randomly screened positive tests last week showing the mutation, thought to be a more contagious form of the virus, the Public Health Agency said on Tuesday.
Sweden, which has seen a marked decrease of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, found a total of 250 cases of the British variant last week out of 2,200 positive samples screened for the strain.
“We have a spread of this variant and it’s not only tied to travel,” Health Agency official Sara Byfors told reporters.
She added that both the total number of cases of the variant and the share of the total positive tests was relatively low compared to many European countries.
The Health Agency also said it would not use AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people over 65, citing lack of evidence it was effective for that group.
The European Medicines Agency last week approved the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine but said it would not recommend it for people over 55.
The AstraZeneca shot has shown to be 60% effective against the virus, well below the level of protection shown by authorised vaccines from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and rival Moderna , which were around 95% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in pivotal trials.
Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, registered 9,649 new coronavirus cases since Friday, Health Agency statistics showed on Tuesday.
The figure compares to 9,123 cases in the corresponding period last week. New cases and hospitalisations have come down significantly in recent weeks.
The country of 10 million registered 224 new deaths, taking the total to 11,815. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than in several European countries that opted for lockdowns.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander, Editing by Helena Soderpalm, Simon Johnson and Nick Macfie)