STOCKHOLM, March 11 (Xinhua) -- The Swedish government announced on Wednesday evening that restrictions on all public events with more than 500 people would come into force at midnight and that anyone found breaking the rules may face fines or six months in prison.
The government's move followed recommendations from Sweden's Public Health Agency. The ban applies to events like concerts, conferences, fairs and sporting events, but not to larger work places, schools or private gatherings.
At an evening press conference, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said: "All resources in society will be mobilized. We stand united in this tough situation."
Lofven's comments came as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sweden rose to 500, with 147 people diagnosed with the virus on Wednesday alone, according to the Public Health Agency.
Also on Wednesday, an elderly patient died at the intensive care unit of the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. The patient, Sweden's first COVID-19 casualty, had a preexisting condition, the Stockholm regional board wrote on its website.
Per Follin, an infectious disease specialist in Stockholm, expressed his sympathies for the deceased person's relatives and said: "We know from international experiences that the elderly, and in particular older people with preexisting conditions, suffer the most serious consequences of COVID-19".
Government representatives also held a press conference in the afternoon where they announced an injection of 1 billion SEK (100 million U.S. dollars) into the Swedish health care system to help deal with the novel coronavirus.
Also, in an effort to encourage people to stay away from work even if they only have mild symptoms of a cold or the flu, the government announced it will scrap the qualifying day of sickness rule. That means employees will receive sick leave pay from day one, rather than from the second day of illness. The state will cover the costs for this initiative, which will be in place for six weeks to start with.