The country, which drew attention to the unconventional response to the pandemic, has reduced public gatherings to eight people from the previous maximum of 300.
The Swedish government has moved to sharply reduce the size of public gatherings, as it sought to control a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that saw record daily numbers of new cases and increasing pressure on hospitals.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said at a press conference on Monday that Swedes have not abided by the recommendations of the Coronavirus and that public gatherings will now be restricted from a previous high threshold of 300 to eight people.
The new measure will take effect on November 24. Interior Minister Mickael Dumberg said the new limit for gatherings – well below the limit of 50 during the previous outbreak – would be in effect for four weeks but could be extended to include Christmas and the new year holidays.
He added that many people are acting “as if the danger is over.”
For his part, Leuven made an ominous note about the importance of limiting social contacts.
“It will get worse. He pleaded with the Swedes to do your duty and take responsibility to stop the spread of the virus.
“This is the new standard for the entire society,” he said. “Don’t go to the gym, don’t go to the bookstores, and don’t host dinner. Cancellation.”
The new ban applies only to public gatherings such as sporting and cultural events, as the government does not have the power to prohibit private gatherings in homes.
Schools and restaurants will remain open, for example, although the latter has already been restricted to a maximum of eight people per table.
The Swedes were also advised not to mix with anyone outside their home.
The resurgence of the disease hit Sweden weeks after its appearance in most parts of continental Europe, but the number of new infections has accelerated since the beginning of the month, with the increase in admissions to intensive care units and public COVID-19 wards.
The number of daily deaths from the disease also increased after slowing to one number during the extended summer lull, when many Swedes gradually began to live their lives normally.
Sweden has gained international attention due to its unconventional response to the pandemic, avoiding lockdowns and the widespread use of face masks, and instead has relied on mainly voluntary measures even as the epidemic spreads in the country increasingly.
More than 6,000 people with COVID-19 have died in the country since the start of the epidemic, which is a per capita death rate several times higher than that of its northern neighbors, albeit somewhat lower than some major European countries such as Spain.
On Friday, the last day on which national data is available, Sweden reported a daily record of 5,990, bringing the total number of infections to 177,355 cases since the start of the epidemic and 6,164 deaths.
“We don’t believe in a total lockdown,” said Leuven. “We believe the measures we have taken … are appropriate.”
The Swedish government said last week that it will impose a nationwide ban at 10 p.m. on the sale of alcohol in bars, restaurants and nightclubs from November 20.