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Decision on stricter restrictions for foreign travellers to be made quickly

The Public Health Agency's proposal for the government to require foreign nationals to show a negative Covid-19 test before entering Sweden will be looked into very quickly and decided in a few days, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said at a press conference on Saturday.

Decision on stricter restrictions for foreign travellers to be made quickly
Illustration photo at Stockholm's Arlanda airport: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP
In a proposal submitted to the government on Friday, the Public Health Agency requested that the justice ministry order all foreign travellers to Sweden, born in 2004 or earlier, to show a negative Covid-19 test that's less than 48 hours old and recommended that all travellers get tested and self-quarantine for a week.

There will now be a very fast turn-around of consultations with the police and other relevant authorities about the proposal.

“The answers must be received no later than Monday”, says Minister of the Interior Mikael Damberg.

The government has been processing the authority's request for the past 24 hours. A few more days are needed before a government decision can be made, according to Mikael Damberg.

He also referred to the fact that the EU will introduce new travel restrictions at the beginning of next week.

In a statement, the Public Health Agency wrote that Swedish citizens (who cannot legally be prevented from entering Sweden) “and others travelling into the country who have for various reasons not been tested before departure should do so on the day of arrival”.

“The situation is changing extremely fast around the world and different virus variants may be found in more countries than those we know of. Therefore, the Public Health Agency believes it is important to get the new restrictions in place,” said director-general Johan Carlson in the statement, released on Friday afternoon.

The agency also recommends that everyone arriving in Sweden from any country in the world stay at home and avoid contacts for seven days – and get a second test on day five, in addition to the first test that they got before arriving in or departing for Sweden. The rest of their household is also urged to stay at home during this time.

Cross-border commuters and members of their household are exempt from these guidelines on the condition that they get tested at least once a week, writes the Public Health Agency.

 

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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