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EXPLAINED: Sweden’s five new coronavirus measures

Sweden has proposed five new coronavirus measures giving the government power to shut down large parts of Swedish society if necessary, and a more detailed framework for public gatherings to differentiate between outdoor, seated and indoor events.

EXPLAINED: Sweden's five new coronavirus measures
Signs remind customers to keep their distance in a Malmö shopping centre, which could be shut down under new coronavirus proposals. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

“It is worrying that the number of cases has risen, we are observing the development with concern […] there is a tangible risk of a third wave of infection,” warned Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren, who presented the measures with Culture Minister Amanda Lind on Wednesday morning. 

“It may be the case that parts of the Swedish society are shut down.”

These measures come under the framework of the pandemic law which was rushed through parliament in January. They have been sent out for consultation today, which means relevant authorities have the chance to give input on the feasibility of the proposals until February 26th, and they are likely to come into force on March 11th.

Closure of businesses

The new proposals include the possibility to close down more businesses, with Hallengren saying that closing shops and shopping centres alone – as was made possible by the pandemic law – may not be enough to curb the virus if the spread continues to rise.

The proposal would make “a broader shutdown of the Swedish society” possible, including closure of the following businesses:

  • All retail locations (shops, shopping centres and department stores) though there would be exceptions for essential businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies
  • Service locations where it is difficult to keep a distance, such as hairdressers and massage salons
  • Gyms, swimming pools and other sports facilities
  • Restaurants, with an exception for takeaway food
  • Venues for private events 

This doesn't mean this will automatically happen on March 11th, but the government will have the power to implement the measure from that date. 

The pandemic law gives the government power to implement measures to curb the spread of the virus, but in itself doesn't contain any measures. Using the new law, the government has already limited the maximum number of people allowed in shops and gyms.

Limited entry to specific places

Municipalities would be able to limit entry to public places where there is a risk of crowding, including outdoor places.

Hallengren said this would become more relevant in warmer months, when people gather at Sweden's parks, lakes and beaches.

People breaking this rule would face fines of 2,000 kronor.

Theme parks and zoos

A new framework would cover theme parks and amusement parks, which are currently mostly closed under the rules limiting public events, as well as zoos, which have mostly been allowed to stay open.

Any events that take place within these venues, such as shows or performances, would still be covered by the national limit on public events, currently a maximum of eight people.

Museums and art galleries

Museums and galleries would need to follow the same rules that currently apply to gyms and shops; limiting the number of people to no more than one per ten square metres of usable space. 

Culture Minister Amanda Lind said that with these new rules in place, it is likely that the museums currently closed, including all Sweden's state-run museums, should be able to open again. She also said that many privately run cultural venues have already adapted to follow the limits on visitor numbers that apply to shops, but the new proposal would regulate this by law.

New system for public gatherings and events

The government also announced a new framework for managing visitor numbers at different kinds of public events, meaning that different limits would apply to the following kinds of events, based on the risk of infection:

  • Indoor events
  • Indoor events with designated seating
  • Outdoor events
  • Races and similar sporting competitions

Events with designated seating would be allowed more people per event than other indoor events, something which was already possible through a change to the events law passed in October but which never truly came into effect because of a rise in the spread of infection.

Public events were first limited to a maximum of 500 people in mid-March 2020, before this was reduced to 50 later that month and to eight in December 2020. The limit has been the same for all public events, meaning that for example concerts, sports matches and outdoor races are currently subject to the same limit. 

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COVID-19

Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.” 

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