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COVID-19

TODAY: Table for one or four? How Sweden’s new coronavirus rules work

From Monday March 1st, new coronavirus measures begin in Sweden, affecting how customers use restaurants and cafés. Here's what you need to know.

TODAY: Table for one or four? How Sweden's new coronavirus rules work
New corona rules come into effect on March 1st, 2021. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Table for one

Under the new rules put forward by the Public Health Agency last week, only one person should be served in restaurants and cafés that do not have their own entrances.

This means that you should eat alone at restaurants located in, for example, shopping centres and larger department stores, where the entrances are shared within another space. The rule doesn't apply to children or people in need of support.

This rule is connected to a recommendation for shoppers to go shopping alone, not with family or friends.

Distance

All customers at restaurants and cafés should keep at least one metre apart from each other.

Closing times

All restaurants and cafés in Sweden have to close at 8.30pm and may not open until 5am the next morning.

The regulation will apply regardless of whether or not the venues serve alcohol. Sweden has previously banned bars and restaurants from serving alcohol after 8pm, but due to a loophole in the law they have been able to remain open much longer in the evening. They now have to shut their doors completely at 8.30pm.

The Public Health Agency says that takeaways can however be ordered after 8.30pm but customers must keep at least one metre apart from each other when picking up.

At these restaurants, the maximum limit of four people per group still applies.

Sport

As well as changes to cafés and restaurants, from Monday no competitive sport below elite level will be allowed to take place. This includes single matches for children born in 2005 or later, which were previously exempt.

Further potential measures

The Swedish Public Health Agency is in dialogue with the business community about further limiting the number of people allowed in stores and supermarkets and about infection control measures at workplaces. It's also working to tighten the rules for sports.

How long will it last?

All the changes take effect on Monday March 1st and according to Aftonbladet, will be in place until April 11th.

Sweden has famously relied on more voluntary measures than many other countries during the pandemic, arguing that they are easier to keep in place for a longer period of time. But it has step by step tightened its restrictions in recent months, including a Pandemic Law that would allow it to close certain venues.

Non-essential public services are among the places that are currently closed in Sweden.

“After a year with this virus, we know that we must keep our distance. That's the most effective measure to curb the spread of the virus,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is not the time to relax. There must be no crowding, not at petrol stations or in shops, not anywhere.”

Sweden has now seen a rising number of cases for two weeks in a row, with an incidence rate of 445 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days. Some regions, like Stockholm, have introduced regional measures, including urging people to wear face masks at all times on public transport and in close-contact situations.

There have been 657,309 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Sweden to date, and 12,826 people have died after testing positive.

ANALYSIS: What would it take for Sweden to bring in a shutdown

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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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