Should I cancel my trip to Sweden because of the coronavirus?

Should I cancel my trip to Sweden because of the coronavirus?
Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
Several readers have contacted The Local to ask if their planned travel to Sweden would be affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, and as of March 19th, international travel into the country will be halted.

Note: Sweden has now halted international travel into the country following an EU decision related to the coronavirus outbreak. The entry ban comes into effect on March 19th and will be in force for at least 30 days.

Swedish citizens and residents will still be able to return to Sweden, and so will those who have a particularly important reason to travel to Sweden, for example “diplomats, people in need of international protection and people who are to perform necessary functions in Sweden, such as healthcare staff and people transporting goods to Sweden”. The ban does not apply to EU citizens, but it is not a good time to travel.

We will no longer be updating this article, but you can keep up with the latest news about the outbreak in Sweden HERE and read some of the answers to our most frequently-asked questions HERE.

What is the situation in Sweden?

You can read more about the current status of the coronavirus, COVID-19, in this paywall-free article.

The majority of cases have been confirmed in Stockholm, but as of March 12th all of Sweden's regions had confirmed cases of the virus. 

Most cases are linked to recent travel abroad, mainly to northern Italy, or contact with infected patients, but Sweden is unable to rule out instances of community spread in Stockholm and Västra Götaland.

The risk of an outbreak in Sweden is assessed by public health authorities as “very high”, after being upgraded from “moderate” on March 10th.

In the map below, you can see an overview of confirmed cases of the virus across Europe.

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How has this affected daily life?

On March 11th, the government announced a ban on all mass gatherings, defined as events for more than 500 people, following a request from the Public Health Agency. The ban came into effect from March 12th until further notice.

This kind of ban is meant to limit a situation where a lot of people travel from various parts of the country or from abroad to all gather in one place, for example concerts or sports events. It doesn't apply to private events such as weddings, or to things like shopping malls or work places.

“It is an infection control measure that could have an effect in the situation we are currently in, and in order to be effective the measure should apply to the entire country,” Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson said in a statement.

Several companies have extended their working-from-home policies or cancelled business travel and conferences, while some schools have closed following confirmed cases of the virus among students or staff. And the Public Health Agency has urged people to avoid all “non-essential” visits to hospitals or care homes.

The Nordic gym chain SATS on March 12th announced it would close all its facilities for an initial two-week period as a precaution. Several shops and businesses have also closed some of their branches, including clothes retailer H&M and bank SEB.

Prior to this week, there had been relatively little official change to daily life in Sweden, and there have been no nationwide or even region-wide closures of restaurants, businesses, or cultural activities. However, it's a fast-changing situation and Sweden may introduce further measures depending on how the outbreak develops.

Swedish authorities have recommended that people should practise good hygiene, including regularly washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, and that anyone with symptoms linked to the coronavirus (including a fever or cough) should limit social contact, however mild the symptoms.

What about transport?

Sweden's public transport is running mostly as normal, although in Stockholm passengers have been asked to board buses using the back door and spread out on buses and trains.

When it comes to getting to and from Sweden however, now is not a good time to travel. You might run into problems in getting to and from Sweden, due to travel bans and vast numbers of cancelled flights caused by the coronavirus.

Neighbouring Denmark has closed its borders to halt the spread of the coronavirus. People who live and work in Denmark will still be allowed in, including cross-border workers based in Sweden, but people based in Sweden will no longer be able to use Copenhagen Airport (other than for inbound flights in order to return to Sweden).

And many airlines have cancelled flights, due to things like travel bans and restrictions, a general fall in demand, and the severity of the outbreak in certain countries. This means that airlines such as SAS have made their policies around re-booking flights more generous than usual, so it may be possible to postpone your trip without paying extra.

If you're flying to or within Sweden, your airline should contact you if there's a change to your flight, but it's worth getting in touch if you want to ask about rebooking or make sure you have the most up-to-date details.

How likely is a quarantine or curfew?

As of Monday, two groups of people had been advised to stay at home in Sweden. The first is the elderly and those in at-risk groups, who have been told to avoid leaving their homes if at all possible.

And anyone exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus, however mild, and even if they have not recently returned from overseas travel, should also stay at home until one or two days after they become symptom-free as a precaution, the Public Health Agency has advised.

Legally, Swedish healthcare authorities do have the power to isolate people or entire buildings judged to be at risk of spreading infectious disease, due to the government's classification of the coronavirus as a socially dangerous disease, but this is not considered likely. The last time this law was actually used was over 50 years during a smallpox epidemic. 

Currently, people not exhibiting any symptoms have been advised to continue their lives as normal, although people in the Stockholm area are asked to work from home if possible.

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How dangerous is the virus anyway?

This is a new virus so at this stage there are a lot of uncertainties about it, and there is no vaccine or confirmed cure.

However the World Health Organisation is currently putting the death toll of reported cases at about 3.5 percent, roughly 35 times the mortality rate for seasonal flu. The majority of people who have died have been elderly or had underlying health issues.

As of March 16th, three elderly people had died due to the virus in Sweden. 

Around 80 percent of those infected with the virus suffer only mild symptoms according to the World Health Organisation, and the vast majority make a full recovery. But even those who exhibit mild symptoms can spread the disease.

If you belong to an at-risk group or regularly spend time with people who do, you may want to be especially cautious, which could mean deciding not to travel or altering your behaviour while in Sweden. Even if those criteria do not apply to you, you may choose to take precautions to reduce the risk of contributing to the spread of the virus.

Will I get my money back if I cancel my trip?

This depends on where you're travelling from, and what kind of travel insurance you have. 

You would typically only be able to get money back for a cancelled trip to Sweden in a few specific circumstances: if your airline or travel provider cancels your trip, if you booked a flexible or refundable ticket fare, or if your travel insurance includes cover for cancellation for any reason.

But as mentioned above, several airlines and accommodation providers are offering increased flexibility for re-booking tickets due to the coronavirus, so it's well worth checking.

If you have a health condition that means you are in one of the at-risk groups, you may also be covered by your travel insurance if you get a doctor's note advising you against travel, but again this depends on your individual policy. 

And if the foreign ministry or equivalent in your country has advised against travel to Sweden, or overseas travel in general, that may well entitle you to compensation through your travel insurance. Be aware that if authorities in your country have advised against travel and you go through with your trip anyway, your travel insurance policy will likely not cover you.


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