For the first time since the pandemic started, Sweden is imposing a partial lockdown on bars and restaurants by banning the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m.
The restriction marks a departure from the country’s previous guidelines that relied mainly on voluntary measures to stop transmission. The new measure applies across the country from Nov. 20 and means all businesses with a license to serve alcohol must close by 10:30 p.m.
“We are facing a situation that could turn black as night,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at a press conference in Stockholm. “We risk ending up in the situation we had last spring.”
Amid a new wave of curbs on movement, authorities in 13 of Sweden’s 21 regions have issued recommendations that, among other things, urge citizens to avoid physical contact with people with whom they don’t share a home.
But those guidelines appear to be having limited effect. In the past week, the number of daily coronavirus cases hit a record and hospitals are seeing a rising influx of patients.
Lofven said he’s ready to consider stricter measures to limit public gatherings, if the latest steps fail to rein in infections.
On Wednesday, 129 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in intensive-care units. While that is less than a quarter of the peak seen in April, the number of ICU patients has doubled in the past 10 days.
How Sweden acts now will determine “if we will be able to celebrate Christmas as normal,” the prime minister said.