Sweden passes pandemic law for broader shutdown powers

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Sweden’s Parliament yesterday passed a pandemic law giving the government new powers to curb the spread of Covid-19 in a country that has controversially relied on mostly non-coercive measures up to now.

Sweden made headlines around the world by never imposing the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe but it started tightening measures as in the face of a stronger than expected second wave over recent months.

The new law, which comes into force tomorrow, will enable the government to close businesses, shopping malls or public transport.

It will also be able to impose limits on the number of people allowed in specific public places, rather than general restrictions on public gatherings.

Asked why the law was only put forward 10 months after the start of the epidemic, Health Minister Lena Hallengren said “it was not something we saw the need for in the spring”. Speaking to broadcaster SVT, Hallengren stressed they had seen an effect from widespread changes in behaviour among Swedes. “Then we had a summer with a low level of infection and then the work started during the autumn,” Hallengren said.

In most cases, breaches of the new restrictions will lead to a fine, which previously has not been possible.

Unlike many other countries, Sweden does not have legislation that allows the government to shut down society in peacetime.

Health authorities also insisted that battling the pandemic is “a marathon, not a sprint”, and measures have to be sustainable for the long haul. Faced with a strong second wave, the country has already tightened preventative measures since November last year.

As cases multiplied, authorities urged people to limit social interactions to immediate family or a few friends. A ban on public gatherings of more than eight people took effect in November and a recommendation on the use of face masks on public transport came into effect on Thursday.

The special pandemic law, in force until September, was first planned to go into effect in March but was moved forward to January.