Please note! Sweden has updated its entry ban and flight ban since this article was written. Click HERE to read about the new rules
What does Sweden's travel ban mean?
On Monday afternoon, Sweden's government announced a ban on travel into Sweden from both the UK and Denmark, due to the spread of a new strain of Covid-19.
The ban comes into force from midnight on Monday and applies to travel by plane, boat or car, initially for a month.
The Public Health Agency earlier said it supports the introduction of an entry ban “as a precautionary measure”.
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How long will the ban last for?
Initially, the entry ban comes into force from midnight on Monday and will apply for a month.
On top of that, the government decided at 4pm on Monday to put a stop to all UK-Sweden flights over the next 48 hours, or until 4pm on Wednesday. Flights that departed before that decision are not affected. The flight ban is separate from the entry ban.
Are there any exceptions?
Swedish citizens are not affected by the travel ban, so are still able to travel from the UK or Denmark to Sweden. The reason that it does not apply to Swedish citizens is that the government doesn't have the legal power to prevent citizens from entering the country, but even for citizens there may be other complications such as cancelled flights or ferries.
A government press spokesperson confirmed to The Local that people who live in Sweden but are not citizens, for example people with residence permits, residence status, or who were planning to move to live in Sweden, are not exempt from the UK travel ban.
For the ban on travel from Denmark, there are additional exceptions, including non-citizens who live or work in Sweden, and people working in transportation of goods. That's because the bans were introduced for slightly different reasons; the ban on entry from the UK is linked to the wide spread of the new Covid-19 variant, while the ban on entry from Denmark is based on the high strain on healthcare in the neighbouring Skåne region, particularly while large parts of society including shops and restaurants are closed in Denmark but not Sweden. The government spokesperson confirmed that visiting a partner living in Sweden is not a valid reason to be exempt from the travel ban if you yourself don't live in Sweden.
I recently travelled from the UK to Sweden. What do I need to do?
There are recommendations in place for anyone who travelled from the UK to Sweden from December 12th. You should stay at home and avoid all close contacts for as long as you can and for at least a week after arriving, the Public Health Agency said. This is to limit the risk of spreading the new variant of the virus within Sweden.
You should also take a PCR test for the coronavirus as soon as possible after arriving, and repeat the test on the fifth day after arriving. If you receive a positive result you should follow the usual guidelines for this situation: staying at home and avoiding all close contacts once you are both completely symptom-free and at least seven days have passed since the positive test result. If you need medical advice, call 1177.
If you work in the medical or care sector, extra restrictions apply. It is especially crucial that you stay at home and avoid contacts if you have recently returned from the UK or even if someone you live with has recently returned from the UK. If you returned from the UK from December 12th onwards and work in these sectors, you should let your employer know so that they can arrange regular testing.
I am in the UK and planned to travel to Sweden in the coming days. What do I need to do?
There is no specific advice for people in this situation, beyond the existing regulations in the UK.
If you are in the UK, you should contact your travel operator to see what you need to do, and be aware that if you do return to Sweden, you must follow the above guidelines about getting tested and isolating for at least seven days after your arrival.
I am in Sweden and planned to travel to the UK in the coming days. What do I need to do?
If you can, cancel your travel. The Swedish Foreign Ministry is advising against non-essential travel to the UK.
This is not a legally binding ban, but has implications including that your travel insurance may not be valid if you travel against advice. It may also be difficult in practical terms to return to Sweden if you need to.
If you have to travel, you should keep an especially close eye on the local coronavirus situation and laws of guidelines, and make sure to follow local rules, including self-isolating for at least ten days after arrival in the UK (or paying for a test on the fifth day, after which you can end self-isolation if the result is negative).
What do we know about the new strain of the virus?
The virus is said to be up to 70 percent more contagious than the original strain, but data on it is still in the early stages because it is so new.
The new strain has been called VUI202012 / 01 and has spread in the southeast of England, prompting a tightening of restrictions in the country just before millions were expecting to travel for the Christmas holiday.
Has the new strain been detected in Sweden yet?
Not according to the Public Health Agency, which says: “It is not at all impossible that it already exists in Sweden, but we have not yet been able to confirm it.”
Is a travel ban going to work?
That's impossible to say, but one coronavirus mutation tracker told AFP that it is not necessarily too late to contain the new strain.
“There's a fair chance that there are more cases of this variant across Europe that we just haven't detected yet. Low levels of this variant might still be containable. If it's in a few people and those people are doing a good job, following the guidelines, wearing a mask, then it might not spread further,” said Emma Hodcroft.
The US-British molecular epidemiologist, based at the University of Bern, is a co-developer on the Nextstrain project, analysing SARS-CoV-2 sequences from around the world to monitor variations that emerge.
“So it is worth trying to keep the number of people with this variant down, because that does help us to contain it through other measures. If this variant has increased transmissibility, as scientists in Britain seem to really think it does, the best way to counter that is, unfortunately, with the same measures that we take now,” she explained to AFP.
What about other countries where the new variant has been reported?
It isn't only the UK and Denmark where cases of the new strain have been reported. Cases have also been reported in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy for example.
Is there anything else to know about Sweden-UK travel?
Yes, bear in mind that travel rules will change anyway from January 1st. This is the date that the Brexit transition period ends and the UK is therefore outside the European Bloc.
British people who want to move to Sweden under the Withdrawal Agreement also have a deadline of December 31st to be resident in Sweden (for these purposes, 'being resident' means simply having made the move to Sweden, and not necessarily being registered in the population register), otherwise they face the considerably more difficult and complicated rules for third country citizens.