Swedish coronavirus cases rise, new measures welcomed

A sign reminding customers about social distancing is placed at the entrance to a grocery store in central Stockholm

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish COVID-19 cases continued to increase on Tuesday as many welcomed the toughest measures yet imposed on Monday to curb the spread of the disease that has claimed more than 6,000 lives in the Nordic country.

Sweden, whose soft-touch pandemic response has garnered world-wide attention, registered 15,084 new coronavirus cases for the latest four-day period on Tuesday. It was a small decrease compared with the 15,779 cases recorded the corresponding period last week.

"We're still in a very serious situation," Sweden's Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference.

Sweden also registered 61 deaths since Friday, taking the total toll to 6,225.

On Monday, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Swedes were not following coronavirus recommendations as well as in the spring, and said that all public gatherings would be limited to eight people, down from a previous upper limit of 300.

The decision was welcomed on the streets of Stockholm.

"I think that the stricter restrictions you impose and the more bans you have (the better)," said Stockholm resident Ann-Britt Nilsson. "And above all - and I have strong opinions about this - close the restaurants," she said.

However, restaurants, schools and businesses are still open for the most part, as they have been throughout the pandemic.

"We don't believe in a total lockdown," Lofven said on Monday. "We believe that the measures we have taken ... are appropriate."

Sweden's death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours but lower than some larger European countries such as Spain.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor and Johan Ahlander; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)