STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden warned on Friday it would shut restaurants and bars in the capital that did not comply with guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, amid signs Stockholm residents were beginning to ignore the rules.
The capital has been the hardest-hit city in Sweden, accounting for more than half of Sweden’s 2,021 fatalities from COVID-19, the disease cause by the coronavirus.
Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg said there were worrying signs that as the weather got warmer, people in the capital were beginning to ignore social-distancing rules.
“As the sun begins to shine, we are beginning to see some worrying reports of open-air restaurants full of customers, of places packed with people, and we have to take this seriously,” Damberg told a news conference.
“I don’t want to see any full open-air restaurants in Stockholm or anywhere else. Otherwise, businesses will be closed.”
He said this would apply to bars and restaurant around the country, not just Stockholm.
Authorities in Sweden have opted against the kind of total lockdown seen across much of Europe, relying on Swedes’ sense of social responsibility with a strategy based on mostly voluntary measures to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.
Primary and secondary schools are open, and while the government has banned mingling at bar counters and gatherings of more than 50 people, food and drink is still served at tables indoors and outside.
Stockholm finance chief Anna Konig Jerlmyr said the capital’s authorities would be increasing checks to make sure bars and restaurants were following social distancing rules round the clock.
“This is the biggest challenge Stockholm has faced in modern times,” she said. “These restrictions are not general advice. These are important rules that are about life and health and must be followed by everyone, all the time.”
More than 1,100 people have died in Stockholm as a result of the new coronavirus, with 280 new confirmed cases reported on Thursday even though testing is largely restricted to patients admitted to hospital and healthcare workers.
“The healthcare system is under great pressure,” said Per Follin, the head of infectious disease control in Stockholm. “We need to keep going with the measures we have so this ends quickly.”
Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard, Larry King