STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden tightened the rules for social distancing for shopping malls, gyms and private gatherings on Friday and said it was ready to close companies if necessary, but ended with a shutdown to combat the spread of the pandemic.
Earlier in the day, Parliament further voted on the government’s powers to close businesses and limit the size of public and private gatherings in addition to what have so far been mostly voluntary measures to ensure social distance.
“Today, the government has not decided on the closure of companies, but the government is also ready to make that kind of decision,” said Prime Minister Stefan Lofven at a press conference.
“This is not something we take lightly, but people’s lives and health are at stake.”
From Sunday, gyms, sports centers, shopping malls and public pools must set a maximum number of visitors based on their size.
In addition, private gatherings will also be limited to 8 people, a rule that so far has only affected public events.
Sweden registered 7,187 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, according to statistics from the Swedish Public Health Agency.
The death toll now stands at 9,433 – a share per capita several times higher than among the Nordic neighbors, but lower than in many European countries that chose lockdowns.
The high death rate – especially among residents of nursing homes – has led to strong criticism of Lofven for not acting sooner and more decisively.
But the government has been partially hampered by a lack of legal tools to implement the kind of far-reaching measures adopted by other European countries.
– The Swedish corona strategy has always been a combination of stricter rules, bans and, not least, that people themselves take great responsibility, says Lofven.
“At the same time, it has been obvious that Sweden needs legislation that better hits the mark in order to manage COVID-19 and limit the spread of infection.”
Even after Parliament voted in favor of the new, temporary law, the government will not be able to impose a curfew or a domestic travel ban.
Reporting by Anna Ringström and Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard and Angus MacSwan