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Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said his country should be prepared for more restrictive measures, while pleading with citizens to act to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“I, and the government that I lead, will make any decision that is necessary to protect as many people’s lives, health and jobs as possible,” Lofven said in a rare address to the nation on state broadcaster SVT. “Everyone must be mentally prepared for what’s ahead.”
Sweden has so far reported 1,906 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 21 people having died after being infected. To mitigate the economic damage caused by the virus, the central bank and government have announced a range of measures — including cheap bank loans, extra quantitative easing, corporate tax deferments, financing for lay-offs and airline credit guarantees — that could add up to more than $200 billion.
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So far, however, Swedish authorities have emphasized voluntary measures across society. While public gatherings of more than 500 people are banned, and universities and upper secondary schools have effectively closed, younger children continue to attend classes across the country and there have been no legislative efforts to close down bars and restaurants.
Lofven, whose Social Democrats lead Sweden in a coalition with the Green Party and rely on support from two liberal parties, also stressed the responsibility of individuals to help limit the spread of the virus.
“Each and every one of us has a responsibility to stop contagion and to protect the elderly and other vulnerable groups,” Lofven said. “There will be a few crucial moments in life when you have to make sacrifices not only for yourself, but also to take responsibility for fellow human beings and for our country. That time is now. That day has come.”
Sweden’s strategy has stirred intense debate in the country, not least because it contrasts sharply with the more stringent policies of neighboring countries. For example, Denmark and Norway closed all schools on March 12, and Finland has limited public gatherings to 10 people.
The nation’s Public Health Agency says that while a decision to close all schools could become necessary at some point, it would like to avoid it as long as possible in order to let vital staff in health care and other services continue going to work.
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