Swedish media reported on Saturday that the country’s government is seeking extraordinary powers to bypass Parliament and fulfill a lockdown or impose stricter restrictions on public life to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the government reportedly hoping that the relevant proposal will be approved in the coming days, opposition parties have demanded that they should be allowed to take part in the decision-making process.
The move comes as the newspaper Dagens Nyhete cited Prime Minister Stefan Lofven as saying that Sweden may face "thousands" of coronavirus deaths, and that the COVID-19 crisis will likely persist for months.
He spoke after the government banned gatherings of more than 50 people late last month, also prohibiting visits to retirement homes for the elderly and closing universities and colleges; schools with students under 16 remain open.
Also in March, Stockholm announced a temporary entry ban, saying that as of 19 March, it applies to all foreign nationals trying to enter Sweden from a country which is not part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
“It is an exceptional measure that should not last longer than necessary. It was a relatively easy decision to make, given the situation we are in”, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg told the newspaper Goteborgs-Posten.
Swedish citizens or residents are not covered by the entry ban nor are people who have “particularly important reasons” to travel there, such as healthcare professionals and people who transport goods.
While many EU countries and Sweden's immediate neighbours, including Denmark and Norway earlier chose to lock down their frontiers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Stockholm refrained from doing so as Sweden's chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell admitted that the strategy of building up so-called “herd immunity” is “partially correct”.
“Our main purpose now is to slow down the spread of infection as much as possible, and of course in the long term build up some kind of immunity in society that prevents it from spreading so quickly in the future”, Tegnell said.
He was echoed by former state epidemiologist Annika Linde who said the Public Health Authority strategy stipulates that […] “as many people as possible should be infected and thereby become immune, without being seriously ill”.
Right now, there are already more than 6,440 confirmed coronavirus cases in Sweden, with the death toll rising to 373 on Saturday, which is a 12 percent increase compared with the previous day.