Several Britons on a flight from Manchester, which landed at Landvetter Airport at 6.45pm on Sunday, were ordered to leave Sweden after border police said they lacked the appropriate Covid-19 tests that are currently required of non-Swedish nationals travelling from the UK, according to passengers on the flight.
“When we landed in Gothenburg all Swedish people were allowed to get off, but British people were told to remain seated. Then the police came onto the plane and everyone had to show a negative Covid test,” Gina Smart, a teacher who lives and works in Sweden, told The Local from Landvetter Airport on Monday morning.
Swedish citizens, people who live and work in Sweden, and people travelling for urgent family reasons, are exempt from the current entry ban from the UK to Sweden, which is in place until January 21st. But non-Swedish nationals have to show a negative coronavirus test not older than 72 hours before they are allowed to enter.
Smart says she was able to show a negative PCR test for ongoing coronavirus infection, seen by The Local, but was told it was not on the list of authorised test providers.
We spoke to Smart and another British national who was also stuck at the airport on Monday morning. They said that out of the people who were denied entry, some flew back to Manchester on the same plane as instructed by police, but some refused and were left standing on the tarmac before they were eventually ushered into a room at the airport where five of them spent the night. Smart said they had been given blankets and a microwave meal.
“We've been sleeping on chairs, but it's been difficult to sleep. We've got to ask to go outside, and we can't shower anywhere. They're not telling us what's happening,” she said. “It feels like a psychological experiment. I feel like a criminal and we're not. We live and pay tax in Sweden. There's been no compassion, the treatment has been diabolical.”
At around 1pm she said that the other remaining Brits, who had test results provided by the UK's national health service NHS, had since been allowed to leave the airport.
At around 10pm on Monday, a relieved Smart told The Local that her own Covid-19 test had also been accepted by Swedish authorities as valid and she was allowed to leave the airport. She said she was “happy to be home”.
The Local contacted border police in the West Sweden region on Monday morning for a comment and for confirmation of the exact number of foreign nationals who were denied entry. We were initially told by the national police media centre to contact the West Sweden police, then told by the latter to contact the national media centre. By Monday evening Swedish authorities had yet to respond to our request for comment.
In total, over the course of Monday, we spoke with four passengers, who had all travelled separately and corroborated each other's reports. Jason Ryan, who has lived in Sweden for six years and had a negative Covid-19 test provided by the NHS, was among those who got back on the flight to the UK on Sunday evening.
“When trying to get back off the plane (with fear that we gave up too easy, and maybe they would relent and let those off the plane into Sweden) I was told I'd be arrested if I got off, so of course I stayed on to go back to Manchester. Suffice to say I was very tired, upset, hungry and emotionally drained,” he told The Local on Monday afternoon.
“I'm back in Sheffield now reassessing my options. It is a bad situation where I thought I had jumped through all hoops. Please don't forget, Ryanair confirmed all my documents in Manchester airport and let me and these people fly.”
The Local contacted Ryanair for comments.
The decision to tighten travel restrictions against the UK, which comes on top of travel rules changing for Brits as a result of the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31st, was taken due to the spread of a mutated form of coronavirus, which first appeared in London and Kent. It is reported to be more contagious than other strains, but based on what scientists know so far, does not appear to cause more serious illness.
As of January 1st, foreign nationals who live or work in Sweden and are travelling from the UK need to show a negative Covid-19 test result. According to border police, the test should have come from “an authorised laboratory”; it does not state so explicitly on their website, but police confirmed to The Local on Monday that they are using a list of private test providers authorised by the UK government as a reference; find a full list of these on gov.uk.
The police spokesperson told us that tests carried out by the NHS would also be accepted, despite not being on the list above (in order to avoid a burden on the healthcare system caused by people getting tested in order to travel). NHS tests are only available in the UK for people with coronavirus symptoms, so most travellers will need to pay for a private test. But several readers have reported confusion over what tests are accepted.
Matt Hope, who works for The Local in Sweden, was on a flight to Västerås on New Year's Day and also noted hold-ups due to extra checks, as well as British nationals being turned away over a lack of Covid-19 tests.
“I am very concerned to hear that UK nationals resident in Sweden have been refused entry into the country,” British ambassador Judith Gough told The Local in a statement on Monday morning.
“It is right that travellers from the UK should be subject to public health measures, following the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 in the UK – the UK takes its public health responsibilities seriously, and was quick to notify the international community of the newly discovered variant. We have also increased our own restrictions in the UK,” she added.
“The British Embassy in Stockholm has been in regular contact with the relevant Swedish authorities over the last week and requested that any measures be clear, well-communicated and appropriate. It is clear that there have been teething problems with the new system over the weekend, and we are asking the Swedish authorities to provide greater clarity and consistency for UK nationals, who wish to return home to Sweden.”
She said the British embassy had deployed consular presence to Gothenburg Landvetter Airport and Stockholm Arlanda Airport, and advised any national requiring consular assistance to call +46 8671 3000.