Sweden slashes gatherings of 300 people to eight as Covid-19 cases surge

Sweden has introduced its toughest coronavirus restrictions yet as Covid-19 cases in the country surge - reducing the numbers of people allowed to gather together from between 50 and 300 depending on the setting to just eight.

During the first wave earlier this year, the Nordic nation chose softer hygiene and social distancing rules, over harsher lockdowns.

Initially infections fell after their peak in June, but now the spike in cases is far worse.

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On top of that, the World Health Organization said they're "extremely concerned" about the surge in cases across Europe.

On Monday, Sweden's prime minister announced the country's most strict coronavirus restrictions to date, saying that public gatherings of more than eight people would be banned as of 24 November for four weeks.

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has announced people will only be able to meet in groups of eight. Credit: AP

Stefan Lofven urged fellow Swedes to cancel plans and stay at home, saying a ban on gatherings is needed now more than ever to curb a record number of coronavirus infections in recent weeks that are burdening the country’s healthcare system.

Sweden had opted for a different - and much debated - approach to handling the pandemic by keeping large sections of society open.

Sweden has seen more than 177,000 coronavirus cases and 6,164 deaths amongst its population of more than 10 million, much higher than its Nordic neighbours, but much lower than countries such as the UK which has seen 52,147 Covid deaths and almost 1.4 million cases, despite introducing much tougher restrictions.

On Friday - the last day for which data is available - Sweden recorded almost 6,000 new coronavirus cases, its highest ever.

But Mr Lofven said the situation would get worse and appealed to Swedes to “do your duty” and “take responsibility to stop the spread” of Covid-19.

"Do not go to the gym, do not go to the library, do not have dinner parties at home. Cancel!" he stressed.

The country's controversial strategy in fighting Covid-19 has so far relied mainly on recommendations to the population to maintain social distancing.

But a rapid increase in new cases and strains put on medical services have pushed the government to take stricter measures in recent weeks, including a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol after 10pm in bars and restaurants, beginning on November 20.

Mr Lofven warned of the risks of people becoming fatigued by Covid measures and re-emphasised the importance of personal responsibility in fighting the pandemic.