STOCKHOLM, March 2 (Xinhua) -- As intensive care units across Sweden are once again being filled with COVID-19 patients, the country's Public Health Agency has warned that the third coronavirus wave appears to be imminent.
"It really looks like we are heading for a third wave," state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at a press conference, adding that the mutated variant first discovered in Britain could make a new wave of infection "quite extensive."
The mutation has hit some regions hard and reports of outbreaks connected to or believed to be connected to it are coming in from the entire country. One example is the town of Monsteras in the southeast, where some 30 students and more than 15 staff at a primary school have fallen ill. It has not yet been confirmed whether the mutation is behind the outbreak, but the school's headmaster told Swedish Television News on Tuesday there were strong suspicions this was the case.
At the press conference, Tegnell also warned of the possibility of a fourth wave. "I think we may also face a critical situation in the autumn, especially if we have not managed to reach enough people with vaccination."
Meanwhile, some regional authorities on Monday warned that the third wave had already arrived in the country with the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients increasing dramatically. In the Stockholm region, their number increased by 70 percent in just ten days.
As of Tuesday, around 43 percent of the country's total intensive care capacity was taken up by COVID-19 patients.
"It is a trend break. There has been a clear decline, a plateau, and now an upturn," said Taha Alexandersson, deputy head of crisis response at the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare.
More than half of the country's regions had less than 20 percent spare capacity.
By Tuesday, 12,882 individuals had been confirmed dead in Sweden since the pandemic started. This was 56 more than on Friday. The number of reported infections had increased by nearly 12,000 in one day to just over 669,000.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in some countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.
Meanwhile, 256 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 74 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Feb. 26.