Wednesday 1/20/21
PANDEMIC

Swedish government gets more powers with new pandemic bill

The bill was to take effect as of Sunday and would give the government the right to order the closure of shopping malls, public transport, gyms, cultural venues and parks.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. Photo: Reuters/file photo.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. Photo: Reuters/file photo.

Sweden's parliament on Friday approved a bill that would temporarily enhance the government's powers to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill was to take effect as of Sunday and would give the government the right to order the closure of shopping malls, public transport, gyms, cultural venues and parks, for example, or limit the number of people allowed to enter them.

People who violate caps on public gatherings could also be fined.

"The government has, as of today, not taken any decision to close any businesses, but we are prepared to do so," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said a few hours after the decision.

Lofven added that Sweden's cap on public gatherings to at most eight people - in effect since November - would also apply for private parties at rented venues or clubs.

Speaking at the same press conference, Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said that shops and other venues covered by the bill must ensure that each shopper or visitor is allocated at least 10 square metres each.

Stores, gyms and other venues must also clearly state how many visitors are allowed in at the same time, she added.

Fines

The county administrative boards would be responsible for ensuring that the rules are heeded and could issue fines.

The head of the Public Health Agency said it welcomed the "additional tools" the bill gave, but underlined that it was still the case that "each individual was responsible for following the general recommendations" to tackle the pandemic.

"Most people are infected at home or at work, and the new law doesn't apply for these areas," Johan Carlson said.

The law was proposed to be in effect until the end of September. There were also provisions that parliament has to be informed by the government of closures within a week.

Government criticized

During Friday's debate, the government was criticized by members of the opposition for not acting fast enough in drafting the bill. Another criticism, voiced by, among others, Camilla Waltersson Gronvall of the main opposition conservatives, was that the new bill did not clearly address how businesses ordered to shut down were to be compensated.

Hallengren defended the government's efforts, saying "a large number" of voluntary and compulsory moves were introduced and had proved quite successful, but there was need for more tools.

The country of 10.3 million has seen about 490,000 infections and 9,433 deaths due to the virus, far higher than its Nordic neighbours.

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