Here’s how the coronavirus has changed daily life in Sweden

Here's how the coronavirus has changed daily life in Sweden
Bars and restaurants may remain open, but risk closure if they don't follow new social distancing regulations such as spacing out tables. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT
UPDATED: The coronavirus outbreak has meant changes to daily life; most of us are asked to change our usual habits in order to protect society and especially the most vulnerable groups. Here's what you need to know about what's changed in Sweden.

Before outlining the various changes, some useful context is that Sweden has made very few changes to legislation in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The changes that are rules rather than guidelines include a ban on public events for over 50 people, a ban on visiting elderly care homes, changes to how restaurants and bars can operate, and an entry ban in Sweden for people from outside the EU.

The rest of these changes are due to one of two things. The Public Health Agency has made several recommendations, including asking everyone who can do so to work from home, avoid non-essential travel, and avoid visits to people in risk groups. However, these should not be considered optional; everyone in Sweden is expected to comply.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has said: “The general guidelines from authorities aren't flexible tips, they must be followed every minute.”

And some of the changes outlined here are based on other factors. Reduced demand for products and services or problems in supply chains have caused some businesses to temporarily close or adapt, while travel restrictions elsewhere in the world have made overseas post more complicated, for example.

Travel

Everyone in Sweden is advised to avoid all non-essential travel, both overseas and within Sweden. That means people should avoid visits to family, trips to summer houses, and planned vacations or trips unless there is an essential reason they should be carried out.

Authorities have in particular stressed the importance of avoiding unnecessary travel over the Easter weekend, and travel to and from the major cities. That's because the infection has so far spread furthest in the major cities, especially Stockholm, and authorities are keen to preserve the different pace of the 'curve' in different regions. This will make it easier for the healthcare system to allocate resources and ensure all patients receive the highest possible standard of care.

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Public transport

As of March 30th, railway operator SJ is running routes at reduced capacity, introducing further cancellations after it already cut one in four routes across the country earlier in the month. 

And because of the guidance to avoid domestic travel, SJ has changed its rules around rebooking and refunds, so that even if you booked a non-refundable ticket you can now cancel and get your money back for trips up until April 19th. Find up-to-date information on how coronavirus has affected SJ here, and the latest SJ traffic information here.

MTRX, which runs train services between Stockholm and Gothenburg, is offering all passengers who book from now until the end of April a free empty seat next to them. They are also offering free cancellation of most tickets. Find more information from MTRX here.

Denmark has closed its borders, which means that only people with a special reason (details here) can cross the Öresund bridge to reach Denmark from Sweden. 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).

SJ is offering free re-booking or a full refund on any tickets for train journeys from Sweden to Denmark which are affected by the border closure. You just need to make sure to apply for the refund or re-book before your scheduled departure time.

Photo: Johan Nilsson / TT

Local transport

As of March 30th, there were no major changes to the scheduling of Sweden's local public transport, but some regions were adjusting their rules.

Under Public Health Agency guidelines, people who are showing any cold- or flu-like symptoms (including a cough or sore throat, for example) should stay at home and avoid public transport altogether, while everyone else must keep a distance from other people while using or waiting for public transport.

Stockholm's public transport operator SL has asked passengers to get on buses at the back door (usually reserved for passengers getting off, and people with pushchairs) to avoid close contact with the driver, and to spread out through the vehicle. The company has also asked passengers who need to travel to make their trips outside rush hour where possible, and not to board buses that look full — there are more buses in circulation than those visible on the SL app, it said.

Some changes have been made in Stockholm to buses, ferries, trams and trains, but so far the subway and commuter trains have not been affected.

In Västra Götaland, some routes are affected due to a staff shortage, but otherwise there are no changes. You can find the latest traffic information here.

And in southern Sweden, Skånetrafiken has heavily reduced traffic across the Öresund Bridge after Denmark closed the border, and is offering passengers refunds on period tickets to Denmark, but there were no other major changes. 

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Work

The Public Health Agency has advised anyone in Sweden who is able to work from home to do so if possible, as of March 16th. The advice is particularly important for those in the Stockholm area, which has seen the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, but applies to everyone wherever they are in the country.

This is because there is now a so-called community infection in Sweden (when the virus is spreading inside the country, rather than only linked to international travel), in particular in the Stockholm area.

“We're now in a situation where (working from home) can make a difference, especially in the Stockholm region,” Public Health Agency epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a press conference.

And in any case, if you show any symptoms that could be linked to the new coronavirus such as a cough or sore throat, you should stay home from work. That is especially important for jobs which regularly bring you into contact with people in high-risk groups, such as the elderly or people with underlying health conditions.

If you have to stay home from work due to the coronavirus, even if you can't carry out your job from home, you should be entitled to sick leave or a special benefit called disease carriers' allowance if you're judged to be a risk of infection.


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / SCANPIX / TT

Sick pay and benefits

The government has changed some of the rules around sick pay and related benefits, in order to support businesses and also help limit the spread of infection.

The first unpaid day of sick leave (karensdag) has been scrapped and so has the requirement for a doctor's note after seven consecutive days of sickness. Workers will get paid sick leave from the moment they first need to be absent from work and up to two weeks, without needing a doctor's note.

The first day's sick pay will not be quite as high as typical sick pay for many workers, though. Under the temporary rules, all employees will receive 700 kronor before tax on the first day of sickness while all self-employed people will receive 804 kronor before tax, regardless of their salary, whereas usually sick pay is 80 percent of the usual salary. For comparison, 80 percent of a monthly salary of 30,000 kronor would work out as about 1,500 kronor per day.

The requirement for a doctor's note to receive Vård av Barn (care of a sick child) benefit after the seventh day of the child's sickness has also been scrapped. Find out more about the changes to benefits on the Social Insurance Agency's website here.

Schools

As of March 17th, Sweden recommended that all senior high schools (gymnasie level, for children aged over 16) close from the following day, and introduce distance learning so that students can keep studying. The decision also applies to universities and municipal adult education (komvux).

Schools for younger children were not affected, but Sweden may make such a decision if necessary, said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

Municipalities and school boards have already been given increased decision-making ability to choose how they address the spread of the virus, for example by moving to online classes or changing the length and timing of the school year.

Several schools across the country have chosen to close anyway, including due to staff shortages or confirmed cases of coronavirus.

It may well also be the case that schools and preschools err on the side of caution in refusing to allow a child with any cold or flu symptoms to attend.


Photo: Gorm Kallestad/SCANPIX NORGE/SCANPIX

Events and activities

Sweden banned all events for over 500 people from March 12th, and has since reduced that upper limit to 50 people. Organisers even of smaller events and private events are asked to carry out a risk assessment in order to decide whether to go ahead or make any changes to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

The ban applies to events such as sporting events, concerts, protests, trade fairs, amusement parks, and other large-scale public events, including those which had previously received police permission.

Workplaces, schools, gyms, private events such as weddings, and shopping centres are not affected.

If you booked a ticket before the ban came into effect and you bought it directly from the event organiser, you are typically entitled to a refund if the organiser cancels the event. If they postpone the event and offer to rebook you to a new date, you are not obliged to accept this.

If the company goes bankrupt however, it can be harder to get this money. 

And as of April 1st, new guidelines on social distancing require everyone in Sweden to keep distance from other people in public places. The rules apply to everyone in Sweden, meaning that whenever you are outside your home, you should avoid meeting in large groups as much as is possible, and keep a distance from others.

As of April 12th there was no requirement for non-essential businesses to close, as we've seen in other European countries. 

Many shops and businesses are open as normal, although some have closed some branches or temporarily closed altogether, due to factors such as decreased demand or staff shortages. 

All shops, businesses and other companies are also required to follow rules that allow people to practice social distancing. This includes limits on the number of people allowed inside a shop, stickers or other markings to ensure people keep their distance in queues or other busy areas, and other measures. You can read more about those measures here.

The pandemic is having a negative effect on small- and medium-sized businesses in particular, so you may choose to see if there are ways to support independent businesses. Some are offering home delivery or extra services to help customers affected by the outbreak.


File photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Cafes and restaurants

Cafes, restaurants and bars have not been ordered to close as in many other countries, although some may have chosen to do so due to factors such as lack of demand or staff shortages. Others have pivoted to focus on takeaway food. 

As of March 24th, the Public Health Agency introduced new rules which effectively mean only table service is allowed at restaurants, bars and cafes. That means counter service and hanging around at bar counters have been banned. The agency also urged owners to increase space between tables and introduce other measures to decrease the spread of infection. 

If a restaurant or bar does not comply with the rules, they risk being shut down.

Exercise and fitness

People aged over 70, in another risk group, or who are showing any cold- or flu-like symptoms, have been asked to avoid all group activities, although people in risk groups or over 70 can still go for walks or runs outside if they avoid contact with other people.

For symptom-free people not in any risk group, under Public Health Agency guidelines you can continue to take part in sports as long as you take extra precautions. The agency asks everyone in Sweden to limit activities that involve close contact, and to choose other exercises instead.

It suggests showering and changing at home, rather than in a shared changing room, if that is possible, and avoid sharing water bottles, mouthguards, towels, or other items which might transfer saliva from person to person. 

Most gyms have introduced new guidelines such as reducing the number of participants in fitness classes, cleaning shared equipment more regularly, and increasing flexibility around freezing membership or training at different locations.


Photo: Thomas Brun / NTB scanpix / TT

Post

It is currently only possible to send post to a restricted number of countries from Sweden, due to border closures.

The countries you can still send letters and parcels to, as of March 18th, are: all EU countries except Cyprus and Malta, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, Monaco, Lichtenstein, the Canary Islands, San Marino and the Vatican, Australia, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Vietnam, and Russia. This may change over the coming days and weeks, and you can find an up-to-date list here.

Life for over-70s and people in risk groups

The World Health Organisation says that studies so far show people aged over 70, and/or with certain pre-existing conditions, are particularly vulnerable to serious effects from the coronavirus. 

Because of this, Sweden's strategy focuses on protecting these groups and on urging everyone to play their part in that goal. 

If you're in one of these groups, you're advised by the Public Health Agency to stay at home and limit social contact as much as possible. Going out for walks to get fresh air and exercise is fine and is recommended, but avoid contact with others and try to get help with errands such as grocery shopping.

It's possible to order items online, but for many shops delivery times are currently longer than normal due to high demand, and it's also possible to have someone else pick up prescription medicines for you if they first register as a proxy (there's information how to do that here, in Swedish).

If you don't have someone who can help you, look into online delivery options or the many neighbourhood initiatives that are springing up across the country.

Everyone in Sweden is asked to avoid non-essential contact with over-70s, including visits to elderly relatives, hospitals and care homes (there is a nationwide ban on visits to the latter). But it's a very good idea to stay in touch over the phone or with video calls, and to make sure they have access to any help they need.


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