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Health

Norway recall Home Guard to patrol border as Swedish COVID-19 cases surge

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Norway on Tuesday recalled Home Guard forces to patrol its land border as neighbouring Sweden reported another surge in COVID-19 cases that is straining hospitals and stretching testing to the limit.

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Norway tightened coronavirus rules last week and extended border controls for another six months. As a result the Home Guard said it would assist police controlling the vast border, as it did during the spring and summer.

“Civilian authorities do not have sufficient resources to enforce the new measures and have asked the Armed Forces for assistance,” the Home Guard - a rapid mobilisation force in the military focused on local defence and civil support - said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Swedish-Norwegian border is Europe’s longest and around 80,000 Swedes live and work in Norway. Sweden’s COVID-19 deaths per capita are more than 10 times higher than in Norway, which opted for a lockdown in the spring.

On Tuesday Sweden recorded 15,779 new COVID-19 cases since its latest update on Friday as a resurgent pandemic stretched testing to the limit in many hard-hit, densely populated regions.

Cases in Sweden, which does not publish data over the weekend or on Mondays, have repeatedly hit daily records over the last two weeks. [nL8N2HS4YB]

“Call it a second wave or not, we are in the midst of a spread and we all need to help curb it,” Health Agency official Sara Byfors told a news conference. “Like the other curves, deaths are also heading higher, though not as steeply yet.”

Sweden tightened recommendations for three more regions on Tuesday, meaning inhabitants in 13 out of 21 regions now are advised to work from home, avoid public transport and limit social interaction outside the family as much as possible.

The Skane region on Tuesday reported 1,410 new cases in the last 24 hours, roughly 10% of the total number of cases since the pandemic began. The region also asked private healthcare providers for personnel reinforcements as hospitalisations had increased.

Several regions are also struggling to keep up with demand for testing even as Sweden hit a record last week, forcing authorities in the biggest cities and hard-hit areas such as Ostergotland to restrict bookings amid a scramble to raise capacity.

Sweden registered 35 new deaths for the latest four-day period, taking the total to 6,057 during the pandemic. Sweden’s death rate per capita is several times higher than Nordic neighbours but lower than some larger European countries, such as Spain and Britain.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Niklas Pollard; editing by Simon Johnson and Jonathan Oatis

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