EU embassies ask Sweden for more lenience towards European travellers

Confusion over Covid-19 tests and how EU citizens are treated at the Swedish border – these are some of the entry ban concerns EU diplomats have raised with the Swedish government.

EU embassies ask Sweden for more lenience towards European travellers
It has only recently become possible to get tested for Covid-19 at Stockholm's Arlanda airport. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

“They are more radical than the strongest Soviet customs official you can imagine,” one EU diplomat told The Local about Swedish border officials' interpretation of the rules.

The EU Commission on Tuesday told six member states – Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden – to ease their tight Covid border rules on EU nationals.

“We underline the need for free movement restrictions to be non-discriminatory and proportionate, and we urge member states to align their provisions, more closely with the commission recommendations that we have jointly agreed, and review [their] rules on free movement,” The Guardian quoted a Commission spokesperson as saying.

EU citizens are allowed to enter Sweden, but they must show a negative Covid-19 test in Swedish, English, Norwegian or Danish, unless they can prove they are covered by a series of exemptions, for example if they can show they live in Sweden. No more than 48 hours may have passed between the time the test was taken and the point when the traveller crosses the border.

For people travelling from fellow EU member state Denmark, as well as Norway and the UK, even tougher restrictions are in place, with entry to Sweden not allowed even with a negative test result, except for citizens or residents of Sweden as well as those who fall into other exempted categories.

The diplomat said some of their country's citizens had been denied entry because their original Covid test was not in English or a Scandinavian language, even though they could show a certified translation.

One Gothenburg businessman told The Local that a friend had been prevented from passing passport control at Landvetter airport. The man had travelled from another EU country to visit his daughter, and had a negative Covid-19 test result.

When border police stopped him entering Sweden due to the certificate being in the wrong language, the man contacted a registered translator and received a stamped official translation of the test result in English – but police would not accept this and the family had to return home after spending almost 24 hours at the arrivals gate in the airport.

The diplomat who spoke to The Local called for more flexibility, saying that some travellers had been stopped because external factors such as flight delays caused them to miss the 48-hour window by small margins. They said some were detained for up to 72 hours before they could turn back.

Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The Swedish foreign ministry confirmed to The Local that “a few, around three” EU countries had been in touch to raise the issue of the entry ban and Covid-19 tests.

“The embassies raise questions about how the exemptions concerning Covid tests should be interpreted, which tests are valid and in which language the tests should be, and how their own citizens are treated at the border checks,” a foreign ministry spokesperson told The Local.

The Local contacted all EU embassies for this article. Of the ones who got back to us, most said they had not received any reports of their citizens held up on the border.

One diplomatic source said any problems had likely been avoided because according to their own regulations for international travel, passengers who would not meet the Swedish entry requirements would not have been allowed to board planes, while another said it did not anticipate problems because rapid tests were available at its airports for outbound travellers.

Another diplomatic spokesperson told The Local “the number of questions received by the embassy regarding entry requirements to Sweden has remained on a reasonable level throughout the pandemic. This also applies to the new negative test requirement.”

Another said they had been in touch with the Swedish foreign ministry to request that “appropriate conditions are provided to people who had their entry in Sweden denied because they do not fulfil the test requirement criteria and have to wait for a flight back”, after one citizen had raised concerns after being held up at the border before being able to return home.

One embassy said it had not raised the matter with the Swedish foreign ministry at the time of writing, but said it had received complaints from its citizens regarding the requirement that the test should be conducted a maximum of 48 hours prior to arrival. “Many citizens had their tests expired while waiting for a border check in Sweden,” they said.

So how do Sweden's entry requirements compare with other EU countries?

Sweden is not alone in introducing restrictions for EU residents despite the bloc's freedom of movement. In fact, the requirement of a negative test in order to entry was introduced significantly later in Sweden than most other countries, and many countries went further than Sweden and banned even their own citizens from entry without a test.

But the conditions of the test requirement vary, both in time, type of test, and the implementation of the ban.

Several other EU countries require a negative test no older than 48 hours, including Italy for example, while Denmark is stricter, only allowing tests taken within the last 24 hours.

However, countries count the hours differently. In Spain, the 72 hours are counted between the time of testing and the scheduled arrival time, meaning that flight delays wouldn't mean a traveller was turned back at the border, while in Italy the test must be taken no more than 48 hours before departing for Italy, simplifying the process for those with longer journeys such as by ferry.

In Denmark, the test must be taken no more than 24 hours before boarding the flight for air travel, and no more than 24 hours before crossing the border for travel by land or sea.

How travellers without test results meeting the criteria also differs. Arrivals to Spain without a test are taken to a health centre, for example, but the country has also asked airlines to ensure at boarding that passengers have the right documents, while Denmark offers rapid testing on arrival.

Some of the diplomatic sources asked not to be identified. In order to protect their identity we have chosen not to name any of our sources. In total we spoke with or received emailed responses from 16 sources for this article, including the Swedish foreign ministry.

Article by The Local's Emma Löfgren, Catherine Edwards and James Savage.

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EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The EU has announced that its Covid travel certificate will be extended until 2023 - so what does this mean if you have a trip planned this year?

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

Cleaning up the phone and thinking of getting rid of that Covid app? Just wait a minute. 

The European Union has decided to extend the use of EU Covid certificates by one year, until June 30th 2023. 

The European Commission first made the proposal in February as the virus, and the Omicron variant in particular, was continuing to spread in Europe. At that point it was “not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants,” the Commission said. 

Now tourism is taking off again, while Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries.

So the EU has taken action to ensure that travellers can continue using the so-called ‘digital green certificates’ in case new restrictions are put in place after their initial deadline of June 30th, 2022. 

What is the EU ‘digital green certificate’?

If you have travelled within the EU in the last year, you have probably already used it.

On 1st July 2021, EU countries started to introduce the ‘digital green certificate’, a Covid pass designed by the European Commission to facilitate travel between EU member states following months of restrictions.

It can be issued to EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against Covid, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus, as a proof of their health status. 

Although it’s called a certificate, it isn’t a separate document, it’s just a way of recognising all EU countries’ national health pass schemes.

It consists of a QR code displayed on a device or printed.

So if you live in an EU country, the QR code issued when you were vaccinated or tested can be scanned and recognised by all other EU countries – you can show the code either on a paper certificate or on your country’s health pass app eg TousAntiCovid if you’re in France or the green pass in Italy. 

Codes are recognised in all EU 27 member states, as well as in 40 non-EU countries that have joined the scheme, including the UK – full list here.

What does the extension of certificates mean? 

In practice, the legal extension of the EU Covid pass does not mean much if EU countries do not impose any restrictions.

It’s important to point out that each country within the EU decides on its own rules for entry – requiring proof of vaccination, negative tests etc so you should check with your country of destination.

All the EU certificate does is provide an easy way for countries to recognise each others’ certificates.

At present travel within the EU is fairly relaxed, with most countries only requiring negative tests for unvaccinated people, but the certificate will become more relevant again if countries impose new measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the latest data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, countries such as France, Portugal and parts of Italy and Austria are in the red again. 

The EU legislation on the certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits such measures, but makes sure that all certificate holders are treated in the same way in any participating country. 

The EU certificate can also be used for access to venues such as bars and restaurants if countries decided to re-impose health or vaccines passes on a domestic basis.

So nothing changes?

In fact, the legislation introduces some changes to the current certificates. These include the clarification that passes issued after vaccination should reflect all doses administered, regardless of the member state where the inoculation occurred. This followed complaints of certificates indicating an incorrect number of vaccine doses when these were received in different countries.

In addition, new rules allow the possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test and extend the range of uthorised antigen tests to qualify for the green pass. 

To support the development and study of vaccines against Covid, it will also be possible to issue vaccination certificates to people participating in clinical trials.

At the insistence of the European Parliament, the Commission will have to publish an assessment of the situation by December 31st 2022 and propose to repeal or maintain the certificate accordingly. So, while it is extended for a year, the certificate could be discontinued earlier if it will no longer be consider necessary. 

The European parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said: “The lack of coordination from EU governments on travel brought chaos and disruption to the lives of millions of Europeans that simply wanted to move freely and safely throughout the EU.

“We sincerely hope that the worst of the pandemic is far behind us and we do not want Covid certificates in place a day longer than necessary.”

Vaccination requirements for the certificate

An EU certificate can be issued to a person vaccinated with any type of vaccine, but many countries accept only EMA-approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Valneva and Janssen) – if you have been vaccinated with another vaccine, you should check the rules on the country you are travelling to.  

Certificates remain valid for 9 months (270) days following a complete vaccination cycle – so if you had your vaccine more than nine months ago you will need a booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There is no requirement for a second booster, so if you have had a booster you remain ‘fully vaccinated’ even if your booster was administered more than 9 months ago. 

As of 1st March 2022, EU countries had issued almost 1.2 billion EU Covid certificates, of which 1.15 billion following vaccination, 511 million as a result of tests and 55 million after recovery from the virus. 

France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Austria are the countries that have issued the largest number of EU Covid certificates.