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Swedish parliament grants government wider shutdown powers

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Swedish lawmakers on Friday passed a bill that gives the government the temporary power to shut shopping centres and public transport and to fine people who break social distancing rules as it struggles to slow the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike most European countries, Sweden has, up to now, adopted mainly voluntary measures to limit the spread of the virus, partly because the government has lacked wide-reaching legal powers to act.

The new law will allow the government to restrict shop opening times and, if necessary, shut private businesses and public transport and limit the number of people in public spaces like parks.

“This is first and foremost about measures to hinder the spread of the virus, but without imposing unnecessary limits on things that can be done without risking infection,” Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said during the parliamentary debate.

The government will however not be able to impose curfews or a domestic travel ban under the new legislation.

Sweden registered 12,536 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, covering the period since Jan. 5, Health Agency statistics showed. Deaths now total 9,262, a rate per capita several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours’, but lower than in many European countries that opted for lockdowns.

During the debate about the new law, the government was widely criticised for being too slow in seeking a broader tool-box to fight the second wave of infections.

It had originally proposed the new powers would come into force in March, but moved up the timetable to Jan. 10 as health services have come under renewed strain.

On Friday, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told public broadcaster SVT the new legislation would be used in the near future.

Main Photo: Passengers onboard an underground train wear masks to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Stockholm, Sweden. The Public Health Agency of Sweden advises public transport travellers to wear a mask during rush hours, starting from 07 January 2021. EPA-EFE/Jessica Gow

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