By Johan Ahlander
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -The rate of new COVID-19 infections in Sweden has jumped to the second-highest in Europe after land-locked San Marino, data showed on Tuesday, as the Scandinavian country which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic faced a third wave of cases.
The number of patients treated at Swedish intensive care units has now risen past the peak of the second wave around the turn of the year. The country has registered 19,105 new cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed.
Sweden had 625 daily new cases per million inhabitants in a rolling seven-day average, statistics from OurWorldInData showed on Tuesday, second only to San Marino, a small nation that is surrounded by Italy.
"Unfortunately we see an increased spread in Sweden. We'll see how this week turns out, but it's definitely a high spread and no signs of a decrease," Sweden's Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference.
Deaths remained at a relatively low 1.7 daily fatalities per million people, below the European average of 4.3 deaths.
"We have increased spread but also vaccinations that work as a break. With these two forces combined we have a relatively even level of deaths", Tegnell said.
The country of 10 million inhabitants has administered 2.1 million shots so far.
Sweden recorded 39 new deaths, taking the total to 13,660. 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 most European countries that have opted for lockdowns.
Tegnell also said Sweden would decide how to use Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine within the coming days, following reports of rare blood clots similar to those reported for the AstraZeneca shot.
U.S. health agencies have recommended pausing the use of the J&J vaccine after six recipients developed a rare disorder involving blood clots. Following the news, J&J said it was delaying the rollout of the vaccine to Europe. [L4N2M62S2]
The move comes a week after European regulators said they had found a possible link between AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine and a rare blood clotting problem that had led to a small number of deaths.
Sweden is due to receive its first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week. It paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March but later resumed use for people aged 65 and older.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Simon Johnson, Niklas Pollard and Bernadette Baum)