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Sweden has rolled out harsher COVID-19 restrictions after refusing to order a nationwide lockdown and instead largely relying on voluntary measures.

The Nordic nation has ordered large gathering bans, alcohol sale curfews and school closures as part of a clampdown that began last month amid rising cases and hospitalizations, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“This is the new norm for the entire society,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at a press conference.

“Don’t go to gyms, don’t go to libraries, don’t host dinners. Cancel.”

Public gatherings are now restricted to eight people, down from a previous limit of 300 as part of the tougher restrictions.

The country also banned the sale of alcohol in bars, restaurants and night clubs after 10 p.m. until the end of February.

High schools will also switch to virtual learning on Monday for the rest of the term.

“This is being done so as to have a slowing effect on the spread of the disease,” Lofven said in announcing the school closures.

The about-face in strategy comes as health experts fear hospitals could soon become overwhelmed by a second wave of the virus, the newspaper reported.

“Authorities chose a strategy totally different to the rest of Europe, and because of it the country has suffered a lot in the first wave,” Piotr Nowak, a physician at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, told the newspaper.

“We have no idea how they failed to predict the second wave.”

Anders Tegnell, the nation’s top epidemiologist, has repeatedly defended the country calling for citizens to hold themselves accountable for social distancing, instead of closing borders and ordering lockdowns.

But Tegnell, who predicted the country could gain herd immunity, acknowledged last month that the Swedes were facing a resurgence of the virus, after initially suggesting that a second wave was unlikely.

“I don’t think the definition is that important, but we see community spread in many regions simultaneously right now,” Tegnell said.

To date, the nation has recoded more than 278,000 infections, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Sweden’s death tally has climbed above 7,000, while comparatively-sized neighbors Denmark, Finland and Norway have reported 885, 415 and 354 fatalities respectively, data shows.

The relaxed approach to the pandemic also failed to protect the economy, which saw unemployment is predicted to hit nearly 10 percent in the beginning of 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported.

With Post Wires

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