As COVID deaths rise, Sweden pulls a U-turn and proposes a lockdown law

December 9, 2020, 11:51 AM UTC

Sweden’s government proposed a law that would give it the power to close stores in response to a worsening pandemic.

The bill, which would allow the minority coalition to cut shops’ opening hours and limit footfall, is due to take effect in March if it makes it through the consultation process, Minister of Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren said on Wednesday. She stressed that the government would only shutter businesses as a last resort, if parliament agrees.

“We are not rid of the pandemic, even if the vaccines obviously brighten the prospects,” Hallengren said. “We see a need to have regulation in place during next year.”

Sweden has so far avoided a full lockdown and relied mostly on voluntary measures to fight the pandemic. That’s in part because the government lacked the legal framework to do more. A temporary law that made it possible to close down businesses expired on June 30, without ever being enforced.

But after a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and deaths, Sweden’s government is stepping up its fight against the pandemic. That includes capping the number of people permitted to gather in public at eight, as well as a ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m.

But Sweden currently has no legal tools to enforce limits on stores, gyms or the use of public transport. The new law, if passed, would stop short of regulating functions at private homes.

Hallengren also said the government’s goal isn’t to impose future lockdowns.

“We have made severe restrictions to people’s way of life, but it’s not possible to close down entirely,” she said. “However, we need to be able to take more exact measures that also impact places that are not covered by current legislation.”

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