Health Minister Lena Hallengren announced the new proposal at an early-morning press conference on Wednesday. She said the government was “worried” about the risk of a third wave of outbreaks.
“It could become necessary to close down parts of Swedish society,” she said.
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The “lockdown decree” or “shutdown decree”, as Hallengren called it, would make it possible for the government to close for example retail venues, gyms, leisure centres, restaurants and venues for private gatherings. If the government decides to use this power, the decision will also need to be put to parliament within a week.
These venues are not being closed down today, but Hallengren said the government wanted to prepare measures that would enable it to do this in the future, in the event of a serious third wave of coronavirus.
The proposal falls within the framework of Sweden's Pandemic Law, which it rushed through in January, but Hallengren said that they also needed these additional proposals to regulate more specific parts of society.
“The government has previously prepared for the closure of department stores and malls. The proposal is now being extended to include all shopping venues, service facilities where it is difficult to keep a distance, such as hairdressing salons, gyms, sports and swimming centres, as well as restaurants and other establishments,” read a government statement outlining the new proposals.
The proposals have been sent out for consultation, which means relevant authorities have the chance to give their input by February 26th, and they are likely to come into force on March 11th. This only means that the government will have the power to implement the measure from that date, not that it will definitely go ahead.
The government also wants to make it possible for local authorities to ban people from certain places where crowding may occur, and anyone who were to break such a rule would be handed a fine of 2,000 kronor.
Hallengren and Lind also presented proposals on Wednesday that would tweak the rules for 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. But 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.
Another proposal stated that 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.
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.
The government also announced a new framework for managing visitor numbers at different kinds of public events, meaning that different limits would apply based on the risk of infection. It said that this would only come into force once the coronavirus situation improves.
The new proposals follow a gradual tightening of Sweden's coronavirus restrictions in recent months. The country of more than 10 million people has so far confirmed nearly 618,000 cases of Covid-19 and 12,500 deaths.
New cases have been in decline since mid-December, but the downward trend has recently stagnated and even shown signs of increasing, and health officials are concerned that the country is heading towards a third wave.
You can watch the press conference in Swedish here: