However, the country has experienced a rapid increase in confirmed cases that is straining the healthcare system. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Friday: “The situation is still very serious,” so the government is introducing new limits on public activities.
“We believe that a shutdown is a burden on the population,” Lofven said. “We are following our strategy.”
New restrictions that go into effect next Thursday include making masks mandatory on public transportation and delaying the national cut-off time for bars and restaurants to sell alcohol until 8 p.m.
Lofven said people with non-essential jobs will need to work from home, and Education Minister Anna Ekstrom said schools should continue to plan for distance education.
“It is not possible to go back to normal everyday life. The pandemic is about life and death,” Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin said at a news conference with Lofven.
Sweden, which has a population of 10 million, has reported 367,120 confirmed virus cases and 7,993 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest figures.
Since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the country, Swedish authorities have advised people to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants have remained open.
Sweden’s government and chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell repeatedly defended the country’s strategy against the coronavirus and reported one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world. Dr. Tegnell said earlier this week that the death toll “is likely to continue to rise in the coming weeks.”
Discussing the new facial mask requirement, the director of the Swedish Public Health Agency, Johan Carlson, said on Friday that the authorities “have never objected” to making masks mandatory.
“We don’t think it has a very decisive effect, but it can have a positive effect on public transportation during certain times,” Carlson said.
He added that “they can be useful in certain settings where distance cannot be maintained.”