Sweden delays plans to ease COVID-19 rules on some public gatherings

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Sweden will delay plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions on some public gatherings, such as football matches, until June 1, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.

The government had said at the end of last month it hoped to ease restrictions and allow more spectators for some sporting and cultural events from May 17, but Lofven said the situation in the health system remained strained.

“We see a certain light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not there yet,” Lofven told reporters. “If we are careless now, we will pay later.”

If the number of infections falls, the vaccination programme moves forward as planned and the situation in the healthcare system eases, many of the restrictions could be eased later in the summer, Health Agency head Johan Carlson said.

By September, “a lot of these regulations should be gone,” he said.

Carlson said that the agency had also told the government that restaurants should be allowed to stay open longer from June 1.

Sweden has relied mostly on voluntary guidelines, such as asking citizens to work from home, wearing masks in certain situations and to keep social interactions as low as possible.

Binding rules include curbs on restaurant opening hours, limiting the number of people in shops and malls and effectively closing museums, public pools and amusement parks.

Sweden’s confirmed cases per capita have been among the highest in Europe in recent weeks, but Carlson said that the situation was showing signs of stabilizing.

The country reported 6,330 new cases on Wednesday and 50 deaths.

Despite the absence of lockdowns, Sweden had lower excess mortality than most European countries in 2020, but higher than that of its Nordic neighbours.

Photo: Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven at a press conference on the new restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, in Stockholm, Sweden. EPA-EFE/Jessica Gow