Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the new limit on gatherings, lowered from the previous limit of 50 people (or 300 people for some cultural or sporting events), signaling a more aggressive approach to contain the spread of infections.
“This is the new standard for the whole of society,” Lofven said at a press conference, Reuters reported. “Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t organize dinner.
The ban comes on November 24 and is expected to last four weeks. The Prime Minister’s comments mark a dramatic change of course for a country now notorious for avoiding a full lockdown in the spring as the coronavirus pandemic emerged with vengeance in Europe. Instead, Sweden advised the public to practice good personal hygiene, social distancing, and work from home if possible.
However, most schools, businesses, bars, restaurants and cafes remained open. Despite some international criticism of its approach, the Swedish government and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell have defended the strategy as striking a balance between public safety and protection of the economy.
Like the rest of Europe, however, Sweden has not been immune to a second wave of infections after an apparent lull in the spread of the virus in the summer. The hike made the government sit back and notice, and last week it announced that alcohol sales in bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. would be banned from November 20.
Government data shows that the number of confirmed daily cases began to increase in early October and hospitalizations began to increase several weeks later. Daily deaths hit double-digit figures in early November.
As of Friday, the latest data available, Sweden has recorded nearly 6,000 new cases of the coronavirus daily, bringing its total number of confirmed infections to 177,355.
This number is much higher than its neighbors Denmark (63,847 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University), Finland (19,419 cases) and Norway, with 29,514 infections to date, although these countries make up about half of the population of 10 million Swedes.
Yet Sweden’s per capita death rate is several times that of its Nordic neighbors, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Sweden’s neighbors have been wary of its more laissez-faire attitude, excluding it from a Nordic travel area after the lockdown in the summer when restrictions were lifted.