What is the requirement?
From Saturday, February 6th, people travelling into Sweden from abroad will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test result no older than 48 hours, the government announced on Tuesday.
There are several exemptions to the requirement including Swedish citizens and people living in Sweden.
This requirement will be in place until at least March 31st, 2021. The changes were announced by the government on Wednesday at a briefing from Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg and police chief Anders Thornberg.
So what's changed?
Previously, only travellers from the UK needed to show a negative Covid-19 test result on entry into Sweden (and this only needed to be at least 72 hours old). This requirement was introduced in late December and applied to all travellers, including people who live and work in Sweden, with the only exceptions for Swedish citizens and essential workers.
Apart from travellers from the UK, Sweden has not previously required those coming to the country to take a Covid-19 test before travel at any point during the pandemic.
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Previously introduced bans on travel from non-EU countries, the UK, Denmark and Norway still apply, and these still have several exceptions including for people who live or work in Sweden. If you do not belong to a category exempt from the travel ban, you will not be able to enter Sweden from these countries – even with a negative Covid-19 test.
If you are in one of the groups permitted to enter Sweden from non-EU countries you must show a negative Covid-19 test result unless you belong to a category exempt from the test requirement – there is significant overlap between the two sets of exemptions, but they are not identical.
Who needs to get a Covid-19 test?
The requirement to show a negative Covid-19 test result applies only to adults over 18.
It does not apply to Swedish citizens, who cannot legally be prevented from entering the country, and it does not apply to people who live in Sweden.
The Local has asked Swedish authorities for clarification on how people should prove they live in Sweden in order to be exempt, and we have also asked how many people are expected to be affected by the new test requirement.
Further exemptions from the test requirement apply to
- people with urgent family reasons for travel
- people working in transport for the healthcare sector
- people working in goods transport
- people working in international police or customs work
- people entitled to humanitarian protection
- people who will undergo surgery or other urgent healthcare in Sweden
- people crossing the border to carry out reindeer herding (this exception applies to the indigenous Sami people who work as reindeer herders in northern Sweden, Norway and Finland).
Sweden already has a ban on non-essential travel from non-EU countries, but there are several exceptions including EU/EES citizens.
The announcement on Wednesday means that even EU citizens will be denied entry to Sweden without a negative Covid-19 test, unless they fall into one of the categories above.
A spokesperson for Sweden's Justice Ministry told The Local they had no information on the current number of travellers who would be affected by the new test requirement – ie how many people would be exempt from the entry ban but not from the test requirement.
But Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson pointed out that neither Swedish citizens nor residents are exempt from a recommendation to get tested after arriving in Sweden (more on that further down). “Our view is that what's most important is that these things interact so that together you get a good effect,” he told The Local.
How do I ensure my test result is accepted?
The test should be no older than 48 hours, unless you are a cross-border worker in which case it should be no older than a week. The 48 hours is counted as the time between when the test was taken and when you cross the border to Sweden.
Several types of tests are accepted: PCR, LAMP and antigen tests, which show you do not currently have an ongoing Covid-19 infection. Antibody tests, which show whether you have previously been infected by Covid-19, are not accepted, and proof of a Covid-19 vaccine is not accepted in place of a negative test.
In order to be accepted, the following information must be included on the test result:
- The name of the person who was tested
- The time of the test
- The type of test carried out (PCR, LAMP or antigen)
- The test result
- The company or organisation that carried out the test
The result and the information above must be in English or a Nordic language (Swedish, Danish or Norwegian) to be accepted.
Under the previous test requirement for travellers from the UK, test results needed to be from an authorised laboratory, considered to include those on this list and the NHS. The government announcement did not state this guideline still applies, or whether there are any guidelines about which test results will be accepted from other countries, but Tegnell's response suggested there was no list of authorised laboratories. The Local is seeking further clarification.
I'm in one of the exempted categories, what applies to me?
If you belong to one of the groups where a Covid-19 test result is not a requirement, you will need to show proof of this at the border – for example, a Swedish passport, ID card or residence permit.
At the time of publication, there was no comprehensive list from the Swedish police (who are responsible for carrying out border checks) or the government explaining what documents would be accepted as proof of residence. However, when Sweden exempted foreign residents of Sweden from its UK travel ban, documents such as an extract of the population register (available from the Swedish Tax Agency), rental or employment contract were accepted.
Everyone who travels to Sweden, regardless of whether you are included by the requirement of a negative Covid-19 test or not in order to enter the country, is also asked to get tested in Sweden on the day of arrival or as soon as possible, and again five days after that. You can arrange your test through 1177.se or by calling a local doctor's office (vårdcentral) and this should be free.
“According to our dialogue with the regions, there should be testing capacity [for this] and there will also be a possibility to prioritise testing of people coming abroad so that they can quickly get tested,” Tegnell told The Local.
You will also be expected to self-isolate for at least seven days after arriving. Self-isolating means keeping all close contact to a minimum, so avoiding going to places where you could come into contact with others such as shops or public transport; avoiding having guests come into your home; and having groceries ordered online or have a friend or neighbour bring them to you. Anyone else living in your household should also self-isolate for this week, even if they have not recently travelled abroad.
Why is this happening now?
The move is linked to the discovery of several new variants of the coronavirus, including those first discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Speaking at the briefing on Wednesday to announce the new rules, Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said: “It is incredibly important for us to act now since we have an uncertain situation in the world, that is why the government is introducing this quickly.”
A reporter from Svenska Dagbladet asked why the government had chosen to introduce restrictions on travel after the state epidemiologist previously said closing borders would have very little effect.
Damberg said that the Public Health Agency experienced societal spread of the original Covid-19 early on in Sweden, and that travel bans therefore would have been ineffective in limiting its spread.
“What we see now is mutated, changed virus variants and we have an interest in limiting them getting a foothold in Sweden,” he said. “So it's these changed variants that we have a possibility to limit through a travel ban in the current situation, so that's the logic of the Public Health Agency.”
Sweden has already taken some actions to limit travel from countries with a high incidence of the new variant, namely the UK, Denmark and Norway. Sweden halted flight traffic from the UK and Denmark in late December, and also banned entry to travellers from these countries with some exceptions (including Swedish citizens and residents). In January, travel to Sweden from Norway was also banned.
Travellers from the UK, Norway South Africa and Brazil are asked to self-isolate for a week on arrival, and take one test for coronavirus as soon as possible after arrival and a second test five days later. All travellers to Sweden from the UK, except Swedish citizens but including foreign citizens working in Sweden, were previously asked to show a negative Covid-19 test (the new rules that come into force on Saturday mean that travellers from the UK who live in Sweden will be exempt from the test requirement, even if they're not Swedish nationals).
Based on the spread of new variants worldwide, the government has accepted the Public Health Agency's recommendation to require negative Covid-19 tests from travellers from all countries.
How widely have new variants of the coronavirus spread in Sweden?
This is unclear as there has not been widespread testing and sequencing to detect the new variant, but we know there is at least a moderate level of spread.
On Tuesday, the Public Health Agency said that out of 2,220 positive Covid-19 tests screened in four regions, the B117 variant had been discovered in 250 samples, 11 percent. The Public Health Agency said it was too early to draw any conclusions, but that the results indicated an increased spread of the new variant, which is believed to be more infectious but not otherwise more serious.
Several cases of a different variant first reported in South Africa have also been found in Sweden, so far all believed to be linked to travel, but again there has not been widespread sequencing.
Asked by an Expressen reporter if this level of spread showed that the negative test requirement was coming too late, Damberg said that Sweden had acted quickly in introducing bans on travel from the UK and Norway.
He said: “It is hard to know exactly where the mutated virus variant is in the world, if we knew that it was only in certain countries, we could have limited the negative test requirement to those countries as we did with the UK.”
What else is Sweden doing to limit the spread of new variants of the virus?
Sweden has a range of coronavirus measures including a maximum limit of eight people at public events, four people per group at restaurants, and a recommendation for everyone to work from home.
The Local asked Interior Minister Mikael Damberg if further domestic measures were being considered in light of the spread of the new virus.
Damberg said the Public Health Agency had “not put forward that kind of question to the government”.
“They also have a broad range of measures to introduce if they feel that they want to do it. And local and regional authorities can do a lot, and they are doing a lot,” he said, referring to for example the town of Strömstad near the Norwegian border, which is rolling out a series of extra local restrictions due to a rise in the number of new cases. “So we stand ready to make new decisions if necessary.”
What other travel restrictions do I need to know about?
Sweden has had a ban on travel from non-EU countries since spring 2020, following an EU decision. There are exceptions to this ban, including Swedish and EU citizens, people travelling from a small number of other countries with low infection rates, and people travelling for certain purposes such as moving to Sweden to live or working an essential job. For people to whom these exceptions applied, there was no requirement to get tested for the coronavirus or self-isolate either before travel or on arrival.
For travel from other EU countries, Sweden did not have any restrictions on entry until the bans on travel from the UK, Norway and Denmark were introduced this winter.
Now, EU citizens travelling to Sweden but not resident here will not be able to enter the country without a negative Covid-19 test.
Do you have questions about the new negative test requirement? Email [email protected] and we will do our best to look into them for you.
Everyone who travels to Sweden, regardless of whether you are included by the requirement of a negative Covid-19 test or not, is also asked to get tested in Sweden on the day of arrival or as soon as possible, and again five days after that. You can arrange your test through 1177.se or by calling a local doctor's office (vårdcentral) and this should be free.