Sweden’s health officials are set to unveil strict new coronavirus rules for local regions to impose.
The country opted against lockdown measures in response to the first wave of the pandemic.
Growing case numbers in areas like the cities of Stockholm and Uppsala, however, have prompted a rethink.
Authorities in the worst-affected areas are set to have the power to strongly recommend people to avoid public transport, busy public places, and contact with those considered most vulnerable.
After opting against lockdown measures throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden is said to be shifting strategies toward the kinds of restrictive measures adopted by most of its neighbors.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, is set to meet with local health officials over the next week to discuss new measures to introduce in response to outbreaks in Stockholm and the nearby city of Uppsala, The Telegraph reported.
Unlike its Nordic neighbors and most other countries, Sweden did not deploy wholesale lockdown measures in response to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.
Instead, the government led by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven allowed shops, bars, and restaurants to remain mostly open and students to attend school.
Sweden has recorded a much higher per capita death rate than its neighbors since adopting this strategy. It had recorded 5,918 deaths as of Sunday, compared with 278 in Norway and 346 in Finland.
Dr. Joacim Rocklov of Umea University told The Telegraph that after being an outlier earlier in the year, Sweden was shifting to a strategy closer to those adopted by most other governments.
It will give local authorities the power to strongly recommend people to avoid busy public places like shopping centers, museums, gyms, concerts, and sports matches. Swedes may also be asked to avoid public transport and contact with those considered most vulnerable to severe infection.
“What’s happened in the last couple of weeks is a movement towards a similar model to what has been used in Norway and many other countries,” he said. “It’s very obvious that it’s a new strategy, but still, the newspapers report on ‘the Swedish strategy’ as if it were fixed in March.”
Johan Nojd, who heads Uppsala’s infectious-diseases department, suggested that he would be prepared to introduce harsher restrictions for the city like new rules for hospitality if the number of cases in the city continued to grow.
“Perhaps tomorrow we will have several talking about concerts or restaurants and then perhaps one could say, ‘In Uppsala now for two or three weeks it is the Public Health Agency’s advice not to sit in restaurants late at night,'” he told The Telegraph.
Unlike in other countries, however, there are not expected to be fines or legal consequences for people who decide not to follow any new advice. Bitte Brastad, the chief legal officer at Sweden’s public-health agency, said the rules were “something in between regulations and recommendations.”
Tegnell this week said the level of immunity in Sweden’s cities was not as high as the health officials had recently believed.
“I think the obvious conclusion is that the level of immunity in those cities is not at all as high as we have, as maybe some people have believed,” he said.
“I think what we are seeing is very much a consequence of the very heterogeneous spread that this disease has, which means that even if you feel like there have been a lot of cases in some big cities, there are still huge pockets of people who have not been affected yet.”