Sweden extends pandemic curbs by two weeks amid record omicron spread

People walk at the Granbystaden shopping centre, as the government announced new recommendations and restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Uppsala, Sweden, Dec 18, 2020. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery/ REUTERS
Sweden will extend its current pandemic measures by another two weeks, the minister for health said on Wednesday, as the omicron variant is spreading at record speed.

The curbs mean bars and restaurants have to close at 2300 and there is a cap of 500 people inside larger indoor venues.

"We have an extremely high level of spread," Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference. "The restrictions must remain in place for two weeks. If everything goes as planned and if the situation allows, the restrictions will be lifted after that."

Sweden has seen some 270,000 confirmed cases in the last seven days but limited testing means the health agency believes the real number could be over half a million.

The spread has put strain on the healthcare system but much less than during previous waves. The number of patients treated in intensive care have been between 90 and 120 people for the past four weeks.

Sweden stood out early in the pandemic by opting against lockdowns, instead relying on voluntary measures focused on social distancing and good hygiene. It has seen deaths per capita much higher than Nordic neighbours but lower than most European countries that opted for lockdowns.