After almost a year of doing very little to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) approved on Friday the country’s pandemic law, giving wide latitude to the government which almost immediately announced further restrictions. The law — approved by all but one of the parliamentary parties — gives the cabinet extraordinary authority to make regulations to curb the coronavirus epidemic. In the debate over the law, the opposition has only asked for compensation to be included for businesses, while at the same time allowing the government to have virtually full power over epidemic issues.
For the first time in almost a year, breaches of restrictions will be punishable by fines, even for individuals, stores and other public businesses can be closed if the epidemic situation so requires or if they breach the restrictive measures. Epidemiological regulations valid until September this year can be applied to gyms, shops, function rooms, and public transport, among others. Although the government and authorities have always referred to the Swedish Constitution when they were criticized for virtually not restricting the movement of people (there has been no curfew at all so far), now the law still allows them to restrict privacy as well. The mandate of the Swedish government has so far not been criticized by any human rights or NGO.
Stores in Sweden will be subject to strict new coronavirus measures after a new law passed in parliament with the backing of all parties except for one. “We will apply it in the near future,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said immediately after the law was passed. By this time, he was already aware that a few hours later, at an extraordinary press conference, he would announce the restrictions that the recent law had made possible. According to them, the number of people in shops and shopping malls from Sunday must be determined so that there is ten square meters of space for everyone inside.
The other unprecedented measure forbids gatherings of more than eight people. Surprisingly, the ten-square-meter rule does not apply to restaurants and pubs, which could stay open until now, but only a maximum of four people can sit at a table. That restriction, however, has not been enforced so far. Sweden’s performance to date has been a series of failures in pandemic defense, the failure even criticized by monarch Carl Gustav XVI. Compared to the neighboring Scandinavian countries, which are very similar socio-culturally, administratively and geographically, Sweden’s indicators are orders of magnitude worse.
In Finland, for example, 7,421 cases of coronavirus have been reported per million people since the outbreak, compared with 47,987 in Sweden and 111 deaths against 924, also per million inhabitants. Still, other countries in Europe, such as Italy, Belgium, and Spain all have worse deaths rates per million people despite those countries imposing dramatically more draconian measures than Sweden. Intensive care units in hospitals in larger cities were already saturated in December. The gravity of the situation is well illustrated by the fact that cancer and vascular surgery are already delayed in Jönköping and Uppsala counties, and patients are forced to be repatriated prematurely in Stockholm to free up capacity for new coronavirus patients arriving every day.
At first, Sweden was reluctant to impose strict measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic based on the assumption that the disease would create herd immunity that would protect the Swedes. The theory voiced by national chief immunologist Anders Tegnell became unsustainable in the fall and there was increasing demand for vaccination, as well as increasingly severe restrictions. The government, however, so far did not have any legal means to enforce bans, mostly public order and alcohol laws were applied. Thus, for example, they were able to introduce a ban on alcohol first from 10:00 pm and then starting on Dec. 24 from 8:00 pm. Title image: Poster at Swedish supermarket entrance prompting shoppers to “Buy alone”. (Photo: Zoltán Bugnyár)