'Cancel everything': Country forced into major coronavirus backflip

Reuters
·3-min read

Once touted for its relaxed approach to the coronavirus pandemic, the Swedish government has been forced into taking a tougher stance in order to slow the spread of the virus.

On Monday (local time) the government moved to cut the size of public gatherings sharply as it sought to come to grips with a second wave which has seen record daily numbers of new cases and growing pressure on hospitals.

Swedes are not sticking to coronavirus recommendations as well as in the spring, and public gatherings will now be limited to just eight people, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.

That’s sharply down from a previous upper limit of 300.

People stroll at the Drottninggatan shopping street in central Stockholm on November 10. Source: Getty
People stroll along the Drottninggatan shopping street in central Stockholm on November 10. Source: Getty

While the Swedish government has previously provided guidelines and allowed its citizens to take their own precautions, they are now being urged to cancel their plans.

“This is the new norm for the entire society,” Lofven told a news conference.

“Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t host dinners. Cancel.”

The resurgence of the disease hit Sweden weeks later than much of continental Europe, but the number of new infections has picked up speed since the turn of the month, with rising admissions to intensive care units and general Covid-19 wards.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says the country still doesn't believe in lockdowns. Source: Getty
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says the country still doesn't believe in lockdowns. Source: Getty

The daily death toll from the disease has also climbed after having slowed to single digits during an extended summer lull, when many Swedes gradually began to live their lives more normally.

Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said the new limit on gatherings – far lower the 50 allowed during the spring outbreak in the country – would be in place for four weeks but could be extended to run over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Sweden has gained international attention for its unorthodox response to the pandemic, shunning lockdowns and widespread use of face masks and instead relying on mainly voluntary measures even as the pandemic hit the country increasingly hard.

More than 6,000 people with COVID-19 have died in Sweden since the pandemic began, a death rate per capita several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, if somewhat lower than some larger European countries such as Spain.

“We don’t believe in a total lockdown,” Prime Minister Lofven said. “We believe that the measures we have taken ... are appropriate.”

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