For the first time this year, Sweden's incidence rate of coronavirus cases has topped European Union figures, the EU's health authority said today, but associated deaths are among the lowest.
The country had a 14-day incidence of 577 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Passing one million cases in early May, Sweden has been near the top, after Cyprus, for weeks with new cases subsiding quicker in the rest of Europe.
Sweden saw a peak in mid-April with a 14-day incidence of over 800 per 100,000 inhabitants.
"Many countries in Europe have been at considerably higher levels than what we are seeing now, so it's probably more about Sweden had a fairly late surge in this hopefully last third wave," state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a press conference, lamenting that the caseload was still higher than last summer.
The Scandinavian country has never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8pm and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut by 8.30pm.
The 14-day notification rate for deaths however was much lower than many other countries, with 12 cases per million inhabitants. In comparison, Hungary and Croatia saw death rates of 133 and 128 per million inhabitants respectively.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,351 there today, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of Nordic neighbours Finland, Norway and Denmark.
Mortality statistics also show Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.
EU roll-out catching up with US
The European Covid-19 vaccination campaign is gaining speed and catching up with that of the United States, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said today.
"We aim to have offered a jab to 70% of all adults by the end of July...this is almost the same target as the one the US has set," she told a conference.
Critics of the EU vaccination campaign should keep in mind that the EU has exported 220 million jabs, almost as many as it has used for its own citizens, Ms von Leyen said in a snipe at the US and the UK.
"Others are keeping their entire vaccine production all to themselves, but the EU will reach its vaccination targets without sealing itself off from the world."
It comes as the European Commission said it signed a third contract with pharmaceutical companies BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc for an additional 1.8 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
The contract reserves the doses on behalf of all European Union member states, between the end 2021 to 2023, the statement added.
The contract requires that the vaccine production is based in the EU and that essential components are sourced from the EU.
Our new 🇪🇺 contract 2021-2023 with @BioNTech_Group @Pfizer is now signed.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 20, 2021
It guarantees up to 1.8 billion doses for our fight against COVID and its variants.
Contracts with other companies may follow, to protect Europe and the world in the long term.https://t.co/qhjktV17o5 pic.twitter.com/3cI1isHLjl
The company will begin making a component of the vaccine at its Grange Castle site by the end of the year.
This will be an mRNA substance to aid the manufacture outside of Ireland.
The move will involve a $40m investment by Pfizer in its Dublin site and 75 new jobs.
Covid jabs for all adults in France
Meanwhile, all adults in France will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations starting 31 May, two weeks earlier than initially planned, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced today.
The shots would be made available a week earlier - on 24 May - to people in "priority professions", including teachers, police officers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, prison officers, checkout workers, cleaners and staff in hotels and restaurants.
Mr Castex spoke during a visit to a vaccination centre in the high-density Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, revealing that President Emmanuel Macron had given orders to "accelerate" the campaign.
So far, 21.5 million people have received at least one shot of a vaccine, representing about a third of the population.
Mr Castex said France was in a position to ramp up the campaign as it "will receive a lot of doses between now and the end of June, so we must have the highest level of vaccination possible."
Until now, the vaccinations had been limited to the over-50s but all adults are allowed to book an unused slot advertised on the same day or the next day.