Sweden is switching from its voluntary lockdowns, with a much harsher approach that will see public events of more than eight people banned.
The Swedish government has moved to sharply reduce the size of public gatherings, as it sought to come to grips with a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen record daily numbers of new cases and growing pressure on hospitals.
Swedes have not been adhering to coronavirus recommendations and public gatherings will now be limited from a previous upper threshold of 300 to eight people, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at a news conference on Monday.
“It is a clear and sharp signal to every person in our country as to what applies in the future. Don’t go to the gym, don’t go the library, don’t have dinner out, don’t have parties — cancel!” Mr Lofven told a press conference.
A dramatic U-turn on Monday, new restrictions will no longer be a recommendation but enshrined in law as part of Sweden’s Public Order Act, which means there will be harsh penalties. Lawbreakers could face up to six months in prison or fines.
On Friday, the last day for which data is available, Sweden reported its highest number of new cases, 5,990, bringing its total to 177,355 with 6,164 deaths – a far higher per-capita toll than those of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than some countries such as Spain and Italy that imposed strict lockdowns.
The new ban only applies to public gatherings such as sporting and cultural events, as the government does not have the authority to ban private gatherings in homes.
Schools and restaurants will stay open, for example, though the latter have already been limited to a maximum of eight people per table.
Swedes have also been advised not to socialise with anyone outside their household.