STOCKHOLM, June 17 (Xinhua) -- The COVID-19 death toll in Sweden has exceeded 5,000, according to statistics from the Swedish Public Health Agency on Wednesday.
The country reported 102 new deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the national tally to 5,041. Meanwhile, infections increased by 1,239 cases, taking the country's total to 54,562.
There are 2,322 people who were and are treated in intensive care nationwide.
DEBATES ON STRATEGY
The high infection rate and death toll have sparked debates on Sweden's unusual approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bjorn Olsen, a professor of infectious disease and a vocal critic of the country's approach formulated by the Public Health Agency, told Sweden's Channel 4 earlier this month that he believed Sweden should have imposed a lockdown at the outset.
On June 3, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is credited as the architect of Sweden's coronavirus strategy, told Swedish Radio that there was "room for improvement" and that too many had died prematurely in the country during the pandemic.
Tegnell's comments were widely interpreted as signifying a U-turn, but at a press conference on the same day, Tegnell maintained that he and the Public Health Agency still believed in Sweden's decision not to impose a lockdown but that, with the benefit of hindsight, there were aspects of the strategy that could be improved.
Both Tegnell and the government have admitted that Sweden has failed to protect the elderly. Figures from the National Board of Health and Welfare published on May 28 showed that 90 percent of COVID-19 related deaths were among those aged 70 and up.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven defended, in an interview with Swedish Television on Sunday, the country's approach, insisting that it is too early to draw any final conclusions.
"It is incorrect to say our entire strategy was a failure," Lofven said, adding that it is precarious to compare death rates across countries. "In a period where we are increasing the testing rate, it looks like the number of cases is going up but at the same time the number of hospital patients is also decreasing, the number of the dead is decreasing," he said.
TRAVEL ADVISORY EXTENSION
While many European countries have now started to open up, several are banning Swedes from crossing their borders or are imposing quarantine requirements on Swedish travellers.
Neighboring Norway, for instance, announced last week that, with the exception of residents on the Baltic island of Gotland, no Swedes would be allowed to enter the country due to the high infection rate in Sweden.
"I hope other areas of Sweden will soon have an infection situation that will allow for travels," Norwegian Health Minister Bent Hoie told Swedish Television. Norwegians who choose to travel to Sweden will need to self-quarantine for 10 days upon their return to Norway.
Out of all the Nordic countries, only Iceland is prepared to welcome Swedes this summer. The country opened up for all international travelers on Monday, with the requirement that arrivals test for COVID-19 at the airport.
Sweden, on its part, has announced that it would partially amend its international travel advisory at the end of June.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs had previously advised against all non-essential international trips up until July 15, but on Wednesday it announced new directives that mean the general travel advisory will be extended until Aug. 31, with the exception of ten European countries, where Swedes will be free to travel to starting June 30.
The ten countries are Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.