The government on Wednesday proposed new temporary legislation to expand its powers to fight the coronavirus pandemic, giving it greater leeway to implement and enforce lockdown measures such as closing shopping malls and gyms.
The legislation, which will be submitted for review to relevant stakeholders before a vote in parliament, would come into force on March 15 next year and be valid for just over a year, the coalition said in a statement.
Sweden has paved the way for harsh lockdowns as the government moves to expand its powers to impose coronavirus fighting measures. Above, an information
Since summer and early autumn’s lull in the pandemic, a second wave of the virus has swept the Nordic country with infections hitting daily records, while hospitalisations and deaths have also shot up over the past two months.
Under the proposed law, the government would be provided greater scope to tailor and pinpoint pandemic-fighting measures, such as limiting crowds and opening hours in stores, but also to undertake sweeping outright closures as a last resort.
‘But a closure is, of course, very intrusive,’ Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference.
‘That kind of a decision would need to be subject to parliament.’
Sweden has adopted a light-touch strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19, shunning the lockdowns employed across much of Europe.
The government let a previous temporary law allowing it greater powers lapse during the summer, when infections were in sharp decline.
Swedish law affords governments only limited room to carry out draconian steps such as business closures.
The country’s primarily voluntary pandemic measures, such as recommendations for social distancing, has in part reflected that fact.
As of Wednesday, Sweden has 304,793 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,296 deaths.
Sweden’s infection rates are now more than double that of Britain, Germany or Spain and its death rate once again the highest among Nordic nations.
Some parts of Sweden have infection rates similar to the worst hotspots in Europe, and cases have yet to start falling after the second wave as they have in Britain, France and many other European countries.
After Sweden’s death rate fell to similar levels to Denmark, Norway and Finland over the summer, it is now once again the highest of the four, with 1,000 new deaths recorded in the last month.
Sweden began the autumn with figures as low as 100 cases and only a handful of deaths per day, having brought numbers down from their summer peak without going into lockdown.
Some parts of Sweden have infection rates comparable to some of the hardest-hit places in Europe, which are shown in darker colours on this map
But cases have been rising relentlessly since late September, passing 5,000 cases per day last week, giving Sweden a higher infection rate than any major country in Western Europe.
Sweden’s current rate of 346 cases per 100,000 people in a week is more than double that in Germany (155), Britain (151) or Spain (121).
As recently as November 2, Sweden’s infection rate was lower than in Britain, France, Germany, Italy or Spain, but much of Europe has seen cases fall back again after imposing new lockdowns.
Skane county which includes Malmo and Helsingborg is now thought to have a similar level of contagion to the worst-hit places in Europe, said statistician Henrik Persson, according to Expressen.
A Covid-19 test is handed out of a car at a car park at a railway station in Malmo, Sweden, as people suffering symptoms do a test by themselves in their vehicle
Deaths have also climbed steadily, with the overall death toll passing 7,000 on Thursday – more than Denmark, Norway and Finland put together.
Sweden’s softer approach to the coronavirus pandemic meant it has so far not imposed a national lockdown.
Unlike other countries including the UK, the Swedish government has not imposed mask mandates – restricting the requirements to healthcare personnel.
However, the country has tightened restrictions since November, banning the sale of alcohol after 10pm and public gatherings of more than eight people.