Such a new law is intended to give the government “more tools in the toolbox” to handle the pandemic, Culture Minister Amanda Lind told a press conference on Wednesday morning. Many of Sweden's coercive coronavirus measures can currently only be regulated under the Public Order Act, which has been described as a blunt tool.
“The way the Public Order Act is written creates injustices. The culture and sports sectors have to live with significantly stricter rules than, for example, public transport and shopping centres,” said Lind, referring to coronavirus regulations that limit public events to a maximum of eight people, but do not apply to other crowded situations.
The Swedish government is currently not able to close down places that are not covered by the Public Order Act, which has limited its power to act during the crisis, compared to many other countries.
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The new law would cover public gatherings and public events, but would also include leisure and cultural venues, for example gyms. It would also apply to shopping centres and public transport, and party venues, but not to people's homes.
It would not automatically mean that the government would impose measures on these places and activities, and some measures would have to go through parliament. But it would mean that the government could, if it thought it was necessary, limit the number of people who may gather in public places, which it can currently only do in certain circumstances.
“That's for example streets, squares, parks and stores. As a last resort, if infection control is not sufficient, there's the possibility of deciding on closures to prevent crowding,” said Health Minister Lena Hallengren.
“But a shutdown is of course a major intervention. It is especially important in that case to safeguard the influence of parliament. Such a decision would have to be put to parliament,” she added.
The government will now consult various expert agencies and authorities as well as other parties in parliament to fine-tune the details, and if approved the law would come into force on March 15th and last for a year, said Hallengren.
Asked how effective the temporary law would be, considering that Sweden expects to start vaccinating risk groups in January, Hallengren responded that it was nevertheless important to have flexible regulations in place to ensure that people continue to follow coronavirus recommendations even as vaccinations get under way.
“We're not rid of the pandemic, even though a vaccine is of course a light on the horizon,” she said.
Sweden introduced similar emergency legislation in spring, but it expired in June without ever being used, with the government saying at the time that amendments pushed through by opposition parties made it less useful.