“Everyone living in our country should be aware of what we're facing. An unusual and trying time awaits. The coronavirus is the biggest threat to Swedish public health in several decades,” Social Democrat leader Löfven told a press conference in Stockholm on Friday.
While the vast majority of Sweden's coronavirus cases have had only mild symptoms, the country is currently focusing its efforts on protecting the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
There is also a concern that because of how fast the virus is spreading, it could knock out vital society functions if too many people contract it at once, so Sweden is trying to slow the virus down.
Sweden has only formally advised against travel to Italy, Iran, China, and parts of South Korea and Austria as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but Löfven urged everyone to avoid non-essential international trips. Several airlines have cancelled flights recently, and some countries have strict measures in place.
“I would like to urge those of you who are planning a trip abroad. Consider whether it really needs to be done, even if the foreign ministry does not advise against it. The situation can change fast,” he said.
He and his ministers presented a series of new measures to prevent the spread of the virus on Friday.
That includes scrapping the requirement for a sick note. Under usual Swedish rules, employers have the right to ask for a sick note from a doctor after the seventh day of sick leave. But Sweden wants to make sure that people are able to stay at home if they have only mild symptoms of the virus, both so that they do not spread the virus and so that crucial healthcare resources can focus on treating the seriously ill.
Sweden has previously ditched the karensdag, the first day of unpaid sick leave, which means that sickness benefits now kick in on the first day of illness, in order to encourage patients to stay at home.
Löfven warned that further measures may be needed as the situation develops.
“There will be more decisions like that. We may as well get our minds set on it. This won't pass in a week or a month, it may well have more long-lasting effects,” he told the press conference.
Matilda Ernkrans, minister for higher education and research, said Sweden's scholastic aptitude tests (högskoleprovet) would not be held this semester due to the risk of the virus spreading.
The test is one of the routes into Swedish university, and can be used as an alternative or addition to high school grades. Around 70,000 people had signed up to sit the exam this spring, said Ernkrans.
“The risk of spreading the infection leads to the högskoleprov being cancelled. This has never happened before, and we are aware that many who sit it get onto their dream course. We are looking at all possible measures to handle it ahead of the autumn semester admission,” she told reporters.