“The situation is concerning. The spread of infection is increasing rapidly and we are seeing an increased burden on healthcare. The spread of the new virus variant Omicron is troubling,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told a press conference.
“I want to address the Swedish people now: We must take joint responsibility and adapt to the new reality right now,” she said, saying new pandemic measures were needed to “buy time”.
She presented a series of new measures, some of which will be introduced on December 23rd, including urging everyone who can to work from home. But plans to extend vaccine passes to venues such as restaurants and long-distance public transport have been put on hold, with Andersson saying the scheme could be extended after more people have had the chance to get a booster dose of the vaccine.
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From December 23rd, restaurants will have to return to table serving only, with one metre between groups of people. “That means there will unfortunately not be any partying in night clubs on New Year’s Eve,” said Andersson.
Shopping centres and cultural and leisure centers will also have to introduce measures to limit crowding.
Public events with more than 20 attendees must have assigned seating, regardless of whether or not they use vaccine passes for admission. If event organisers don’t use vaccine passes, groups must keep a distance to each other and be limited to eight people. Public events of more than 500 attendees must adopt all of these measures, including vaccine passes as well as limits on groups of people et cetera.
The Public Health Agency has also asked the government to introduce the following measures: A maximum of 50 people at private events held in rented venues, only seated passengers on long-distance public transport, and a requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated foreign tourists over the age of 12 to show a negative Covid PCR test no more than 48 hours old when travelling to Sweden.
The first two measures can only come into force by December 24th due to legal processes. Andersson said the third request would be handled “speedily” but did not say when the new travel restrictions would come into force.
Andersson and Health Minister Lena Hallengren clarified to The Local that the test requirement would apply only to tourists, not to foreign citizens who live in Sweden, but stressed that an additional recommendation to get tested after arriving in Sweden applies to everyone.
Noting that Sweden still was seeing relatively low levels of Covid-19, director of the country’s Public Health Agency, Karin Tegmark Wisell, said that the strain on Sweden’s healthcare had increased as a result of the novel coronavirus coupled with other viruses and the seasonal flu.
“We’re still seeing a considerable spread in Europe and our neighbouring countries. We have lower levels in Sweden but in the last few weeks we have also here seen a rapid increase in the rate of the spread, Tegmark Wisell said, adding that the number of new cases was expected to rise and that the situation was “ominous”.
Most of the measures were announced without an end date, but Hallengren told reporters that they did not wish to keep them “longer than necessary.”
The health agency director also noted that nearly 1.5 million Swedes were still not vaccinated.
The country of 10.3 million people is still seeing some of the lowest levels of new cases in Europe, according to the WHO, but it has seen an increase of 37 percent in the 14-day incidence rate, compared to the preceeding period.