Swedish prime minister defends Christmas shopping mall trip

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Friday defended his visit to a mall to buy a Christmas present for his wife despite Swedish authorities repeatedly urging people to stay away from shopping centers to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Lofven, who didn’t break any laws, was the latest Swedish official to have gone against the advice given to the public by himself and Sweden’s Public Health Agency. Earlier this week an official resigned following reports that he had gone on vacation to the Canary Islands over Christmas.

Sweden hasn’t gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, but is relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.

“I fully understand if people think it’s weird,” Lofven said in an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT.

He said he is following the government’s advice and has significantly reduced his visits to shops and restaurants. When he has gone, he said, he has made sure he is able to abide by social distancing.

Lofven added that he has never shopped online, but in retrospect maybe he should have considered it.

Sweden which has had 482,284 confirmed cases and 9,262 deaths, has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic. It has opted for a much-debated approach of keeping large parts of society open.

On Wednesday, Dan Eliasson, who headed the government agency responsible for civil protection, public safety, emergency management and civil defense that sent out text messages to millions in Sweden urging them not to travel, resigned after it was revealed he took a vacation to Spain’s Canary Islands for Christmas and New Year.

Eliasson was photographed several times in December in the Canary Islands. He told the Expressen daily that he had “given up a lot of travel during this pandemic” but has a daughter living in the islands.

Lofven said Eliasson had “drawn the right conclusion” in resigning but refrained from commenting further.

On Friday, the Swedish Parliament adopted a temporary COVID-19-pandemic law that will allow it, among other things, to close shopping centers and shops, halt public transport and public activities to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The law is to apply until September, and those breaking it will face a fine.

Lofven’s government originally planned to introduce the law in the spring but fast-tracked it to January as the second wave of the pandemic has put a severe strain on Sweden’s health care system.

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