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Coronavirus in Sweden: 'It's a myth that life is going on as normal,' says Swedish government

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General Director of Sweden's Public Health Agency Johan Carlson speaking at a press confence in Stockholm. April 17, 2020.
General Director of Sweden's Public Health Agency Johan Carlson speaking at a press confence in Stockholm. April 17, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP (screengrab)   -  
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Sweden's government has defended its strategy in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

The country has recorded a drastic increase in the number of coronavirus-related deaths during the last month, which sparked concerns about its social distancing measures.

Unlike some of its Scandinavian neighbours - like Denmark and Norway - Sweden kept primary and secondary schools open, as well as most businesses, including cafes and restaurants.

"The difference between the approach in Sweden and in other countries is not very big. It's mainly the tone that we deal with," said Johan Carlson, director of Sweden's public health agency.

"Rather than saying 'you need to stay at home, you're not allowed to do that and that' we are trying to explain to the population why this should be done, the reason for it and also the rationale for doing certain things," he added.

So far, Sweden has banned gatherings larger than 50 people, closed high-schools and universities, and urged those over 70, or otherwise at greater risk from the virus, to self-isolate.

Sweden's foreign minister, Ann Linde, who spoke alongside Carlson at Friday's briefing in Stockholm, said the idea that life goes on as normal in Sweden is "a myth".

"Many people stay at home and have stopped travelling. Many businesses are collapsing. Unemployment is expected to rise dramatically," Linde said.

She argued that "Sweden shares the same goals regarding the COVID-19 outbreak as all other countries: to save lives and protect public health. We work with the same challenges as other countries - the scale and speed of the virus, the pressure on the national health system - and we use the same tools as most countries do."

Yesterday (April 16), the government received special - though temporary - powers by parliament in order to pass bills without requiring MPs approval in case of urgent public health matters.

Parliament is however entitled to revoke any law passed with such system if it wishes to do so.

In addition, Sweden's prime minister Stefan Löfven announced the travel ban into the country would be extended until May 15. It does not apply to citizens from Switzerland or countries of the European Economic Area (EEA).

As of Friday (April 17) Sweden has reported more than 12,500 cases of COVID-19 - half of them in the past 14 days only - with more than 1,300 deaths, according to the European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (ECDC).