On November 10, 2020, people are strolling on the Drottninggatan shopping street in central Stockholm amid the novel pandemic of the coronavirus Covid-19.
FREDRIK SANDBERG | AFP | Getty Images
Sweden, notorious for not imposing a lockdown during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, appears to be changing direction and taking tighter measures as a second wave of infections sets in and hospital admissions increase.
It was announced on Monday that public gatherings of more than eight people were no longer allowed, which means a tone shift for the Scandinavian country, which so far relied largely on voluntary measures and guidelines during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the new limit on gatherings, which has been lowered from the previous 50 people (or 300 people for some cultural or sporting events), signaling a more aggressive approach to contain the spread of infection.
"This is the new norm for society as a whole," Lofven said at a press conference, Reuters reported. "Don't go to the gyms, don't go to libraries, don't throw dinners. Cancel."
The ban comes on November 24th and is scheduled for the last four weeks. The Prime Minister's comments mark a sharp turnaround for a country now known to avoid a full lockdown in the spring as the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe with a vengeance. Instead, Sweden advised the public to practice good personal hygiene and social distancing, and to work from home if possible.
However, most schools, shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes remained open. Despite some international criticism of his approach, the Swedish government and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell defended the strategy as a balance between public safety and protection of the economy.
However, like the rest of Europe, Sweden was not immune to a second wave of infections after an apparent lull in the virus' spread over the summer. The surge has caused the government to straighten up and take notice, and it was announced last week that alcohol sales in bars and restaurants will be after 10pm. would be banned from November 20th.
Government data shows that the number of daily confirmed cases began to rise in early October and hospital stays increased a few weeks later. Daily deaths hit low double digits in early November.
On Friday, the latest data available, Sweden was seeing nearly 6,000 new cases of the coronavirus every day, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 177,355.
At 29,514 infections, this number is far higher than that of its neighbors Denmark (63,847 cases according to data from Johns Hopkins University), Finland (19,419 cases) and Norway, although around half of Sweden's 10 million population live in these countries.
Yet Sweden's per capita death rate is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Swedish neighbors expressed concern about their more laissez-faire stance and banned them from a Nordic travel area after the lockdown in the summer when restrictions were lifted.