Sweden's parliament has passed a pandemic law giving the government new powers to curb the spread of Covid-19 in a country that has controversially relied on mostly non-coercive measures to fight the virus.

Sweden has made headlines around the world by never imposing the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe but it has started tightening measures in the face of a stronger than expected second wave over recent months.

The new law, which comes into force on Sunday, will enable the government to close businesses, shopping malls or public transport.

"The government today has not made any decision to close down businesses, but is prepared to also make those decisions," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters at a news conference.

It will also be able to impose limits on the number of people allowed in specific public places, rather than general restrictions on public gatherings.

Asked why the law was only put forward 10 months after the start of the epidemic, Health Minister Lena Hallengren said "it was not something we saw the need for in the spring".

"Then we had a summer with a low level of infection and then the work started during the autumn," Ms Hallengren told broadcaster SVT.

In most cases, breaches of the new restrictions will lead to a fine.

Unlike many other countries, Sweden does not have legislation that allows the government to shut down society in peacetime, and even with the new law the government cannot order people to confine themselves to their homes.

Health authorities have also insisted that battling the pandemic is "a marathon, not a sprint", and measures have to be sustainable for the long haul.

Faced with a strong second wave, the country has already tightened preventative measures since November last year.

As cases multiplied, authorities urged people to limit social interactions to immediate family or a few friends.

Today, the government announced that a ban on public gatherings of more than eight people, in force since November, would now extend to private gatherings in public places, such as parties or ceremonies, but they are still not binding for gatherings within the home.

The government also announced new rules for sports halls, swimming pools, shopping centres and other shops.

These establishments will as of Sunday, need to make sure not to take in more visitors than one per ten square metres.

Similar recommendations from health authorities to limit crowding was already in place, but under these new rules business face the risk of a fine or being closed down.

The special pandemic law, which is in force until September, was first planned to come into effect in March but this was moved forward to January.

The country of 10.3 million people has been bit hit much harder than its Nordic neighbours and yesterday reported a total of 489,471 cases of Covid-19 and 9,433 associated deaths.

According to a tally by the AFP news agency, the country averaged 101 deaths per day over the last week, surpassing the previous record of 99 set in April.

Brisbane to go into lockdown after variant discovered

Australia's third-largest city headed into lockdown and borders are set to tighten nationwide after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel contracted the new variant of Covid-19.

The variant, which was first discovered in the UK, appears to be more infectious than other Covid-19 strains more commonly detected in Australia.

More than two million residents in the Greater Brisbane area will have to stay at home for at least three days from this evening, authorities said.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said: "If we are going to stop the spread of this infectious strain, this UK strain, we must act immediately."

Large queues formed at shops around the city, prompting officials to urge people to stop panic-buying.

The incoming restrictions will still allow residents to leave home to buy essentials.


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On Brisbane's central shopping strip, Queen Street Mall, people voiced broad support for the measures, keen to avoid the soaring case numbers seen as the variant takes hold in Britain.

Andy McPhee, 51, a Brisbane resident who works for an international firm, said the lockdown paled in comparison to what his colleagues overseas were experiencing.

He said: "I don't think a three-day lockdown is going to hurt us at all. I think it's imperative to stamp out the virus.

"One case becomes two and two cases become 10 so before you know it, it can get a bit out of control."

Several new variant cases, including the variant discovered in South Africa, have been detected in travellers currently under mandatory quarantine in recent weeks.

However the Queensland case was the first to be contracted locally and is believed to have spread to a cleaner from a returning traveller isolating in a Brisbane quarantine hotel.

The city's lockdown signalled a return of restrictions unseen since March.

Large queues formed at shops around the city, prompting officials to urge people to stop panic-buying

Following the announcement, authorities around the country restricted travel to and from Brisbane and tightened already tough rules on international arrivals.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said all international travellers would now be required to undergo testing before flying to Australia.

The already low number of arrivals would also be temporarily reduced by 50% and a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all travellers will be retained.

Mr Morrison said: "There are many unknowns and uncertainties in relation to the new strain, and so that's why this precautionary approach, we believe, is very sensible."

Researchers are scrambling to determine just how much more contagious the British discovered variant is, with initial studies suggesting it may spread 40-70% more than existing strains, although data outside Britain is limited.

Another key question is whether existing vaccines work against the new strain, with Pfizer reporting that preliminary findings were positive and the vaccines did work.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Before the announcement, Brisbane was among several Australian cities enjoying a return to relative normality during the southern hemisphere's summer.

The state of Queensland recorded no new cases of community transmission today.

But recent outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne had forced travel across state borders to be tightly restricted again amid mounting pressure on officials to hasten the vaccine's rollout.

Yesterday, Mr Morrison announced plans to bring forward the planned vaccine rollouts by weeks. They are now slated to begin in February.

Australia has recorded more than 28,500 Covid-19 cases and 909 deaths linked to the virus, in a population of about 25 million.