Swedish government to ask parliament for tougher powers to fight pandemic

09 December 2020 - 11:51 By Reuters
An information sign wishing Merry Christmas and asking to maintain social distancing is seen at a pedestrian shopping street amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Helsingborg, Sweden, December 7, 2020.
An information sign wishing Merry Christmas and asking to maintain social distancing is seen at a pedestrian shopping street amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Helsingborg, Sweden, December 7, 2020.
Image: Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

Sweden's government on Wednesday proposed new temporary legislation to expand its powers to fight the coronavirus pandemic, giving it greater leeway to implement and enforce lockdown measures such as closing shopping malls and gyms.

The legislation, which will be submitted for review to relevant stakeholders before a vote in parliament, would come into force on March 15 next year and be valid for just over a year, the coalition said in a statement.

Since summer and early autumn's lull in the pandemic, a second wave of the virus has swept the Nordic country with infections hitting daily records, while hospitalisations and deaths have also shot up over the past two months.

Under the proposed law, the government would be provided greater scope to tailor and pinpoint pandemic-fighting measures, such as limiting crowds and opening hours in stores, but also to undertake sweeping outright closures as a last resort.

“But a closure is, of course, very intrusive,” Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference. “That kind of a decision would need to be subject to parliament.”

Sweden has adopted a light-touch strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19, shunning the lockdowns employed across much of Europe. The government let a previous temporary law allowing it greater powers lapse during the summer, when infections were in sharp decline.

Swedish law affords governments only limited room to carry out draconian steps such as business closures. The country's primarily voluntary pandemic measures, such as recommendations for social distancing, has in part reflected that fact. 

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