Travel: How foreigners in Sweden have had to change their plans this summer

Travel: How foreigners in Sweden have had to change their plans this summer
A sunset view over picturesque Käringön on Sweden's western coast. Photo: Mats Schagerström / TT
For people living outside their home country, policies like quarantines and travel bans introduced to limit the spread of the coronavirus don't just mean a disrupted summer holiday, but missing out on seeing friends and family, and on events from weddings to supporting sick relatives.

One reader of The Local, a 29-year-old researcher from Germany, arrived in Sweden to start her new job in early March, just as Europe was waking up to the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.

She spent just two weeks working from her office before switching to working from home, so had not built up a social network in her new hometown. Compounding the isolation is the fact she has not seen her partner in the UK or family in Germany since Christmas.

“Living on my own, not knowing anyone here yet, and being cut off from my partner and family abroad has made for a very isolating experience,” she told The Local when we asked how you've been affected by travel restrictions.

The UK currently requires a 14-day quarantine for anyone returning from Sweden, while in Germany the same requirement has been introduced in certain regions, which prevented the 29-year-old from visiting an elderly parent who was about to undergo surgery.

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Amidst this uncertainty, she told The Local she wanted to delay any travel plans until the situation is clearer, but felt like she may not be given that choice. 

“I feel that there is a strong social pressure to take a long holiday in the summer, which I do not want to do if I can't use that time off to see loved ones,” she said.

Sweden’s Annual Leave Act guarantees all workers four weeks of consecutive holiday during the summer, and in some workplaces this time off is mandatory — especially right now, with some employers asking workers to take their vacation if the company is experiencing a less busy period due to the crisis.

The 29-year-old said she was unsure whether she felt countries were justified in the more stringent measures against Sweden, “or whether these policies are born from the impression that we in Sweden didn't “suffer enough” because there was no official lockdown”.


Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

Other readers felt it was unfair that while they face restrictions or outright bans on entering other countries, the same countries are allowing their residents to travel to Sweden, which has not imposed any restrictions on visitors from the EU/EEA other than the need to follow guidelines like social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. 

“I am really annoyed by all the Danes are coming to Småland to their summer houses. They should not be allowed to,” said Alexandra, a French-Swedish resident of Växjö.

But Beate, a German PhD student, said: “I can see why other countries are hesitant. It separates me from my family for probably the rest of the year effectively. I try to not be bitter about it because it's not done without reason. I don't share the sentiment that other countries bully Sweden. It's bad timing that increasing test capacities coincides with the easing of travel restrictions in other countries, and the restrictions are tied to positive cases per capita.”

For Charlotte, a Brit who moved to Sweden for work in the tech industry three years ago, the UK’s quarantine has meant that not only are her planned travels in jeopardy, but also her wedding. However, her honeymoon is booked in France, which has no entry or quarantine restrictions on travellers from Sweden.

“We were supposed to get married in August in the UK (our home country). The big reception has been cancelled but we are still hoping for a miracle and we get a 10 person legal ceremony. But it's not looking likely!” she said. “So we may be in Nice celebrating the wedding that never was!” she said.

Although people from Sweden are subject to stricter rules when it comes to international travel, many readers had made their peace with giving up their planned trips — despite sacrifices like not seeing family and friends.

“I personally think that we should all still keep our international travel to a minimum while the pandemic is ongoing as many countries still have significantly high infection rates and death rates. We are all in this together, and a lot of unnecessary travel could have negative impacts on those countries which are still struggling to control the virus,” said a reader from Scotland working in academia, who has had to cancel visits to and from the UK.

She was also one of several readers who did not feel comfortable travelling a long distance within Sweden, even after Sweden dropped its advice against domestic travel in mid-June.

“My only option for travel is to use public transport, as I do not have access to a car. It feels like it would be putting myself and others at unnecessary risk as the travel isn't essential. I will just take a shorter break from work this summer, stay close to home, and hope that it may be possible to visit my family later in the year instead,” she explained. 


Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Although most readers who responded were happy with the change to domestic travel guidance, she was not the only one who said they wouldn’t be taking advantage of it even so. 

Maitri, an Indian doctoral student in Gothenburg, had hoped to travel abroad this summer but is coming to terms with the change to her plans.

“I appreciate the fact I can at least move around within Sweden,” she said. “It's compulsory for me to be off work for part of the summer. I prefer international travel to domestic because I have friends abroad. Now I'm trying to get friends from Denmark to visit me here instead.”

While some readers felt it was hard to travel without access to a car or a private summer house to ensure social distancing, others said they would stay in their home region to avoid travelling to worse affected parts of Sweden. 

For Anastasiia, a Ukrainian student in Lund, the chance to explore Sweden is a small consolation for a summer of cancelled plans. But although she has friends elsewhere in the country, she said she would probably limit any travels to Skåne due to the lower infection rate in her region. 

Others were looking forward to a scaled-down summer, but expressed concerns about the need for authorities to make guidelines clear now that domestic travel has been given the green light.

Timothy, an editor from South Africa who had to cancel a trip to see family as the visa application centre in Stockholm is closed indefinitely, said: “The Public Health Agency must continue to emphasise the importance of their coronavirus guidelines around social distancing and so on. Social distancing is harder to get right than it seems. We need all the reminding we can get.”

This was also something that worried Deepak, a software developer in Malmö. “Summer is a very important time and the only time when Swedish residents get to enjoy the sun wholeheartedly, we should be careful that it does not lead to an increase in the spread of the virus.


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