Sweden government to get wider shutdown powers under proposed pandemic law

FILE PHOTO: Travellers from Denmark are met by Swedish police in protective masks at the border control point at Hyllie station, as the Swedish government shut the border after a mutated strain of the coronavirus was discovered in Denmark, in Malmo, Sweden December 22, 2020. TT News Agency/Johan Nilsson via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The Swedish government will have the power to close shopping centres and public transport from Jan. 10 and fine people who break the rules,under a new law proposed on Monday to help halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Up to now, Sweden has relied mainly on voluntary social distancing measures, setting it apart from most other countries in Europe where enforced lockdowns have been used to fight the COVID-19 virus.

“In very serious situations, the government will be able to decide on more extensive measures to prevent crowding,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference.

“That includes the closure of shops, public transport, shopping centres, or other kinds of businesses that fall under the new law.”

While the government has stressed its faith in Swedes’ individual sense of responsibility, it has also lacked the legal tools to take a tougher stance.

The law will only stay in force until September unless renewed.

The government had originally planned to introduce the law in March, but has moved up the timetable amid a second wave of infections that has put the health service under severe strain.

Sweden registered 6,609 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday last week - the most recent figures reported.

It has now seen 8,279 COVID deaths, a rate per capita several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Angus MacSwan