Explained: What do Sweden’s local coronavirus measures say about socialising?

Explained: What do Sweden's local coronavirus measures say about socialising?
A restaurant's outdoor terrace is empty in front of a sign in Uppsala reminding people 'it's easy to do the right thing'. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
People in every region of Sweden are currently subject to stricter local coronavirus measures, including avoiding physical contact outside the household. Here are the details on what you need to know.

The local recommendations vary slightly from region to region, but all those issued as of November 25th included a guideline to avoid close contact with people from a different household. Many also recommend avoiding indoor environments which generally attract high numbers of people, like shops and museums.

What exactly applies in the regions with stricter local measures?

The Public Health Agency words the restriction around socialising as follows, in all regions: “If possible, avoid physical contact with people other than those you live with. That includes, among other things, a guideline against arranging or participating in a party or similar social occasion.” 

Physical contact has been defined by both the Public Health Agency and regional infectious disease doctors as situations where two people are closer than 1.5 metres apart for a total of 15 minutes or more, which the agency says should be “completely avoided”. 

That includes social events like parties, dinners, after-work drinks and other gatherings, whether at home or elsewhere. It also includes activities like health and beauty treatments which cannot be carried out in a socially distanced way (such as massages and haircuts), although there is an exception for treatments carried out for a medical reason.

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Can I really not see anyone I don't live with, or is there flexibility?

There are a few important exceptions, notably for essential visits such as for medical care.

These restrictions apply primarily to socialising, so if for example you have a job that requires you to come into close contact with others, that is permitted. However, everyone in Sweden who is able to should work from home, and employers are required to ensure a safe working environment for those who cannot, including ensuring a distance between employees, and between staff and customers, for example.

And the restriction applies to close contact only, meaning that you can arrange to meet people at a safe distance, for example to go for a walk outside. 

So can I meet as many people as I want if I see them outside?

It's not a good idea. The Public Health Agency and government ministers have been clear that people shouldn't look for loopholes. If you need to meet someone — for example if you live alone or if there is an urgent reason — then meeting outdoors is generally better than indoors from an infection perspective.

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said on November 24th that the key idea was to avoid meeting in person as much as possible, including outdoors. “We are in an upward trend of the number of cases [of coronavirus]. During this time, when we are once again seeing a large strain on the healthcare sector, it is important to take a step further and keep our contacts to a minimum,” he said.

What if I live alone?

If you live alone, the agency says that you can have close contact with one, or two at a maximum, people you don't live with. This is similar to policies in other countries which allow single-person households to form a 'bubble' with others, and is particularly relevant in Sweden where 40 percent of all households have just one inhabitant.

Just how closely do I have to follow these recommendations anyway?

Authorities have repeatedly said everyone should be following the recommendations at all times – they are not optional. That's because they have a legal basis in law, even though there is no legal enforcement or fines for non-compliance.

These recommendations are intended to reduce the spread of infection, to avoid unnecessary deaths and to reduce the strain on those working in the healthcare sector.

Britte Bråstad, chief legal officer for the Public Health Agency, described the measures as “something in between regulations and recommendations” in an interview with The Local in October. “You could say it's a 'strong recommendation',” she said at the time.

There is room for individuals to decide how best to apply them to their own circumstances, but the idea is that everyone should be limiting their contacts as much as they can.

What about restaurants – are groups of eight still allowed?

Restaurants are covered by their own set of rules, which include a requirement for a 1.5-metre distance between tables and a maximum of eight people per group. Because they are covered by their own rules, the Public Health Agency doesn't include them in the new restrictions to avoid indoor environments.

But that doesn't mean they are an exception to the local rules around socialising: you should avoid meeting people outside your household whether at home, at a restaurant or elsewhere.

The Public Health Agency's general director Johan Carlson explained: “The fact that you can have a maximum of eight doesn't mean that you should have eight people, you should only socialise with your closest circle. If your family is three people, you shouldn't invite five neighbours to go out, you should go out as a family of three.”

What about events – can I meet seven friends there?

Public events are subject to a limit of eight people. But that doesn't override the local recommendations; you should still not be closer than 1.5 metres to people you do not live with.

The main difference between the limit on events and the recommendations around socialising is that the former is a legal ban. People who organise a public event for more than eight people can have it shut down by police and may face fines or even a prison sentence. These sanctions don't apply to private gatherings, but you are still expected to follow the recommendations.

 


Member comments

  1. Hi, there is a detailed explainer about the rule for sporting events here: https://www.thelocal.se/20201022/explained-what-you-need-to-know-about-swedens-new-rules-for-events-and-nightlife
    The key things are that firstly, this only applies to events where participants are seated and have a minimum one-metre distance between them, so it often wouldn’t count as ‘close contact’. And regions have the option to keep the stricter limit of 50 attendees at these events, which many of the regions with local measures have done

  2. Hi! I just wanted to comment that this is exactly the reason why I really appreciate The Local. Straight forward “translation” to things that are confusing to understand when you come from a different culture. Thank you very much! =)

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