Even lockdown averse Sweden is tightening restrictions, as government warns of rising COVID-19 cases

November 4, 2020, 9:01 AM UTC

Swedes face a new wave of restrictions after daily coronavirus cases hit a record, with the government warning of a grim winter ahead.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said his country is now facing a “very serious situation” that requires tougher measures if the virus is to be fought back.

The resurgence of Covid-19 across Europe has caught the region off guard after a summer that left many countries assuming they’d brought the virus under control. But as citizens grew complacent and temperatures dropped, the pandemic has returned with a vengeance.

Lofven warned that the latest development is putting Sweden’s health-care system under pressure, as more intensive care beds get filled.

“The brief respite that we got during the summer is over,” he said. “How we act now will determine what kind of Christmas we will be able to celebrate, and who will be able to take part.”

Avoiding Lockdowns

At no point since the pandemic started has Sweden imposed a lockdown, relying instead on voluntary social distancing. That’s led to higher infection and mortality rates than in the rest of the Nordic region, but so far with few signs that Sweden has developed herd immunity.

Sweden’s new coronavirus cases hit a record of 4,062 on Friday. As of Tuesday, a total of 134,532 Swedes had been infected with the virus, with 5,969 fatalities.

Critics have called Sweden’s approach reckless. Those in charge of the policy say it will work better in the long run, and argue that sudden lockdowns aren’t a tenable way to fight a virus that’s likely to be around for years.

But there are signs Sweden’s government is ready to adopt a tougher approach as the country heads into an uncertain winter.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, said on Tuesday that “overall, the development is moving in the wrong direction in many different ways.” He added that “the main issue now is to really limit close contact to the immediate family.”

Sweden’s latest measures still take the form of recommendations, meaning people don’t face legal consequences if they ignore them. But Lofven said he wasn’t just handing out “some kind of friendly, general advice.”

“It is expected that everyone who is subject to these recommendations will follow them all day, every day,” he said.

As of Tuesday, Swedes in seven of the country’s 21 regions — representing roughly 70% of the population — will be required to:

  • Avoid physical contact with people besides those with whom they share a home
  • Avoid indoor spaces in which crowds can form
  • Avoid parties, weddings, funerals and similar events
  • Employers should ensure that staff who can work from home do so