ANALYSIS: What would it take for Sweden to close shops and businesses?

ANALYSIS: What would it take for Sweden to close shops and businesses?
Restaurants have remained open throughout the pandemic, but subject to restrictions like distancing between tables. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
New proposals announced this week would give Sweden the option to shut down many non-essential businesses. But the government has not set a date or a threshold for what the situation would need to look like in order for it to use these powers.

In January, Sweden rushed through a pandemic law that would allow the government to, among other things, close shops and limit their opening times or customer numbers.

This week proposals were announced to expand that law, including by ordering shutdowns of other businesses such as hairdressers, beauty salons and switching restaurants to takeaway only, as well as empowering local councils to set limits on visitor numbers at public spaces and fine individuals who violate those limits.

If implemented, these measures would bring the measures in Sweden much closer to those seen in most other countries during the past year of the pandemic. But it's not yet clear if and when that would happen.

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“We have had a falling number of cases for several weeks, but that decrease has tailed off and it looks like it is heading up again. That is very worrying. Right now we are not bringing in a general shutdown, but we are preparing to be able to use that part of the pandemic law,” said Health Minister Lena Hallengren at a government press conference on Wednesday.

The proposals are currently out for consultation, which means relevant authorities will give feedback on the feasibility before they are put to parliament.

At the moment, they are set to enter in force on March 11th, but Hallengren said the process could be expedited if necessary. Once passed, the measures wouldn't automatically come into effect but the government would be able to introduce them immediately if judged necessary.

“Being in a plateau phase [when it comes to new coronavirus cases] or seeing a small increase is not a reason to take the toughest, strictest measures we can have, that has incredibly far-reaching consequences not only economically,” she told reporters.

Other countries have set out specific thresholds to be met in order for different measures to be changed.

France, for example, set a target of a maximum of 5,000 new cases per day and fewer than 3,000 people in intensive care in order to end its December lockdown, although it ended the lockdown without meeting the case target. Switzerland has said its planned re-opening is based on factors such as the test positivity rate, reproduction rate, intensive care occupancy, and 14-day incidence.

Italy has used an algorithm based on over 20 data points to decide thresholds above which regions are given tougher restrictions, which has prompted some criticism as some areas have been subject to tougher rules than places with significantly more cases per capita.

The Local asked which data and metrics would be looked at in Sweden when making the decision.

“I think we've all learned that there are no very good algorithms for making these decisions,” said the Public Health Agency's director Johan Carlson.

“At the end of the day, it's a matter of a balanced assessment, where are we, where do we want to go, what could be the measures that could help us out in that respect. I know that some countries try to fix levels and so on but it didn't work out very well so it's a general decision on the situation that would decide where we go.”

When The Local asked if authorities could give examples of which specific data or metrics would be looked at as part of this overall assessment, Lena Hallengren said “No, we can't”.

Carlson added: “It's transmission rates, the presence of mutations that could be problematic, it's a balance with where we are in the vaccination, it's an overall assessment. I think all countries operate like that just now.”

Different developments have previously led Sweden to tighten up restrictions; for example closing its borders first to the UK, then Denmark and Norway in response to new more contagious variants, and tightening restrictions during the second wave due to reports of lower compliance with existing measures and a sharp rise in incidence rates.


Member comments

  1. I agree with most…..”Firstly people must read and keep updated, not that everything you read or see on the Internet is Gospel. Use discernment and have wisdom, wisdom to know better, to know when something smells fishy. Sweden has done the best I think under these circumstances. WHat needs to be increased is “Intelligence”.. How is it that China, where the so called virus started has the lowest numbers of cases, and they have been shut down and hiding and keeping information for themselves, whilst countries have been reporting theirs to a centralized body “WorldOmeter” for example. Another thing, if Sweden was strong on their Health Science and Hygiene rules, cases might be lower, what i mean by that? People spit and gauk in the streets, kids sneeze without even covering it, they blow noses, or wipe with their hands, then plaster it onto their clothing, have they not been taught manners or flu etiquette….also “stay home if you are sick!! Just go out on any street in Sweden, and you will see disgusting batches of saliva n disgusting cold blobs all over walkways, streets, etc. .where do you think that is tracked? right into your homes and into the air. Also, people, the minute you feel unwell, start to treat yourself. Take garlic n ginger, oranges, lemons, sea salt, aloe and honey and blend together in blender, take 3 times a day. Go into the hottest shower you can bear, let the steam rise up, drink plenty hot water , and drink lots of water. Then take everyday VIt. D3, VIt, C 1000mg, Zinc and B12. This will help if you do this from day 1 of feeling ill, do not wait until it gets to deep into your system. …. just like the flu. One other thing, if 98.8 percent of people recover, why did we need a lockdown! Finally, if Governments world wide tell you go home, shut your business down, then they should be responsible for paying everyone’s mortgage and rent and keeping people fed until such time as it is safe. Does anyone care? Remember folks… The Govt. works for you…not the other way around. We should be telling them what we want as a people.

  2. I’m with you, Bruno. It’s really difficult to compare countries – all are different. Sweden has three major cities, unlike France, Germany, the UK and the rest! Everyone can argue that Sweden should be in lockdown, but the decisions have been made and the Swedish economy has probably not had the same massive hit that the economies of those countries mentioned earlier have had. There is a lot of hindsight going on in the world – actions taken too early, too late. The bottom line is to do what you are asked to do in terms of restrictions.

  3. My Goodness, you have no clue what it is like to have to live a lockdown like it has been in France…….and we still have a curfew starting 6 pm.
    Life is just getting up, going to work and try to shop before 6 pm.
    Stop complaining…….Sweden has had it super good in comparison .
    I was in Stockholm last week and my God…..did I enjoy that restaurant !!!
    My neighbour got fined 135 eur because she was coming out of the shop at precisely 6:05 pm !!!
    You want that in Sweden ???
    Sweden hasn’t failed the elderly…….this thing ripped through every senior hole around the planet. In France senior holes were shut down. No one gets in or out and yet, people died like flies ………. it was their time to go…..period

  4. My Goodness, you have no clue what it is like to have to live a lockdown like it has been in France…….and we still have a curfew starting 6 pm.
    Life is just getting up, going to work and try to shop before 6 pm.
    Stop complaining…….Sweden has had it super good in comparison .
    I was in Stockholm last week and my God…..did I enjoy that restaurant !!!
    My neighbour got fined 135 eur because she was coming out of the shop at precisely 6:05 pm !!!
    You want that in Sweden ???
    Sweden hasn’t failed the elderly…….this thing ripped through every senior hole around the planet. In France senior holes were shut down. No one gets in or out and yet, people died like flies ………. it was their time to go…..period

  5. When judging please take a look where are other countries with stricter lockdown rules. Are they in better place, it looks like no.

  6. It’ll never happen. Just like Trump, when you’re dead wrong the hardest thing to do is admit it and eat that crow. But the longer you double down on your nonsense the deeper it gets. These guys can’t say they’ve been wrong for a year but now they see the light so please ignore the body count.

  7. The number of cases has been declining all over the world, including Sweden. But the EU has declared that the 3rd wave has started -, though there is no justification. Nowhere…

  8. Stop comparing countries with other age, societal and geographical distributions with sweden. As a german, I am ashamed of the state of Response in my home country. All technological advances delayed and now the system sets an arbitrary maximum of 35-50 cases because the health agency use fax and excel. Life can not stop, sweden has failed the elderly in the first wave and has not focused on case numbers but rather acknowledged the complexity of things.

  9. Stop comparing countries with other age, societal and geographical distributions with sweden. As a german, I am ashamed of the state of Response in my home country. All technological advances delayed and now the system sets an arbitrary maximum of 35-50 cases because the health agency use fax and excel. Life can not stop, sweden has failed the elderly in the first wave and has not focused on case numbers but rather acknowledged the complexity of things.

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