Coronavirus: US/Europe

Swedish PM warns of rising virus threat in rare address

STOCKHOLM • Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has used a rare address to warn of the growing threat the coronavirus poses, amid fears the strategy used so far may not be enough to fight an increasingly deadly pandemic.

Mr Lofven, the third prime minister in Sweden's history to deliver such a national address, said on Sunday night that "too many people have been careless about following the recommendations" that health authorities say are key if the virus is to be reined in.

Sweden famously avoided a lockdown, relying instead on voluntary measures. But with a death rate considerably higher than elsewhere in the Nordic region, the authorities are now recalibrating their approach.

Mr Lofven's decision to address the nation triggered a wave of analysis in Sweden's biggest newspapers on Monday, as editorial pages weighed in on the seriousness of the moment.

Only two Swedish prime ministers have made similar addresses in the past - Mr Carl Bildt in 1992, after a series of racially motivated shootings, and Mr Goran Persson in 2003, after the murder of foreign minister Anna Lindh.

In his speech, Mr Lofven said everyone must do more to fight the virus. "The health and lives of people are still in danger, and the danger is increasing," he said.

"Everything that you would like to do but isn't necessary, call it off, cancel, postpone."

Earlier this month, Mr Lofven took what he called the "unprecedented" step of banning public gatherings of more than eight people. And from last Friday, sales of alcohol were no longer permitted after 10pm. Both measures were a sign that voluntary measures are no longer enough.

Covid-19 has already killed more than 6,000 Swedes, with total cases well above 200,000.

In a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Sweden consistently ranked among the hardest-hit nations in Europe, as measured by relative Covid-19 mortality and infection rates.

The OECD also noted that Sweden lagged far behind its peers in bringing down the transmission rate.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2020, with the headline 'Swedish PM warns of rising virus threat in rare address'. Print Edition | Subscribe