Sweden has warned that it may be necessary to close companies and close down parts of society as anxiety grows in Stockholm over the risk of a third wave of the covid-19 pandemic.
The center-left government presented one on Wednesday suggestions which for the first time would allow it to close shopping malls, gyms and restaurants and fine those who do not follow the rules SEK 2,000 ($ 240).
“There is a significant risk of a third wave of infection… It may be necessary to shut down parts of Sweden,” said Minister of Social Affairs Lena Hallengren.
The country, which stood out internationally due to its refusal to impose a lockdown, has since December introduced more and more restrictions.
Coronavirus cases per capita have been ticking up again in recent days, after repeated warnings from health authorities that a third wave is likely. The number of cases and deaths per capita is still well above the highest levels recorded in neighboring Norway and Finland, but its excess mortality in Covid-19 is lower than in several European countries that had formal shutdowns.
Infections are increasing in six of Sweden’s 18 regions with a particularly sharp increase linked to the construction of a large electric battery factory in the north of the country for Northvolt, a start-up backed by Volkswagen, Goldman Sachs and Ikea.
The proposal for possible closures is out for consultation until February 26, and the government has declined to say exactly what would trigger its introduction.
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Hallengren said she understood that there was a desire to return to normal, but added that the recent increase in cases was “worrying”. She continued: “At present we do not make the decision [to shut down], but it is clear that we do not intend to wait until it is too late. “
Sweden closed its borders with Norway and Denmark in recent weeks due to fears of the spread of the more contagious variant first discovered in Britain, while in December it issued its first recommendation to wear face masks, after the country’s king said its strategy had been a failure.
But critics have accused officials of sending mixed messages after the head of Sweden’s public health authority was arrested twice without a mask in public transport, while some municipalities have banned certain employees as teachers from wearing them. On Wednesday, as well as warning of potential closures, the government announced new rules that could allow some museums to reopen.