Parliament was recalled from its Christmas recess for the first time since 2005 in order to debate the coronavirus bill.
“We know that Covid-19 is in the society and will be here for a long time to come. More precise measures are needed, that are possible to maintain over time,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren said. A similar law in place over the summer expired without being used or extended, and the government has said this was too blunt a tool to be used effectively.
The new pandemic law gives the government the possibility to shut down businesses, but Hallengren stressed that this is not the main goal of the legislation.
It also introduces extra measures, such as the possibility to introduce limits on visitor numbers or opening times in order to reduce the risk of infection spread.
These measures could be applied to places including public transport, shops and shopping centres, restaurants and bars, cinemas and theatres, museums and other cultural or sport venues. Although the government will not be able to set a limit on the number of people who can meet privately, the measures could be extended to limits at public parks, beaches, and premises such as the rooms available in many apartment blocks for private events and parties (festlokaler or 'party rooms').
The bill was slightly adapted after criticism from the opposition that it lacked clarity on compensation available to businesses affected by these limits. It now states that the government must look into the financial consequences on affected businesses, but future policies on compensation will be passed separately.
“Of course if you have shutdowns, you need to make sure to provide support. But we can not say exactly how much or what that support should look like,” Hallengren said.
Asked by public broadcaster SVT if the law would be used soon, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said: “It will be used in the near future.”
Any measures introduced using the new law would be legally enforced. This means people could face sanctions and fines for violating them, which is not the case with the Public Health Agency's recommendations, the main tool used thus far as part of Sweden's non-coercive coronavirus strategy.
So far, Sweden has had to adapt other laws to make these kinds of changes, for example by banning the sale of alcohol after 10pm, then 8pm, and reducing the number of people allowed per group in restaurants to eight, then four. But this is a more time-consuming process, requiring each change to be put to parliament. Under the new law, it will be possible for the government to make these changes much faster.
The measures permitted still have limits however.
The government would not be able to introduce measures as restrictive as those in most countries, such as a curfew or limit on individuals leaving their homes.
The pandemic law will come into force on Sunday January 10th and applies until September 30th 2021.
If you have questions about the new pandemic law you would like us to try to answer, please email [email protected].