How Sweden’s Covid-19 restrictions for events will change this summer

Sweden's five-step plan to start lifting the first restrictions from June 1st raised a lot of questions. We've tried to answer some of them.

How Sweden's Covid-19 restrictions for events will change this summer
Midsummer festivities held on a smaller scale last year. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT

What are the five steps for reopening events? 

Step one: From June 1st, up to 50 people will be allowed at cinemas, theatres and other seated indoor events, up to 100 people will be allowed at non-seated sport, culture and other outdoor events, up to 500 people will be allowed at seated sport, culture and other outdoor events, and up to 150 people will be allowed at running events, orienteering, swimming and other outdoor competitions.

The maximum rule of eight people at public events will no longer apply to flea markets and other markets, and permanent amusement parks such as Liseberg, Gröna Lund, Skara Sommarland and others will be allowed one person per 20 square metres. 

Step two: From July 1st (if the situation allows), up to 50 people will be allowed at non-seated indoor events, up to 300 people will be allowed at seated indoor events, up to 600 people will be allowed at non-seated outdoor events, up to 3,000 people will be allowed at seated outdoor events, up to 900 people will be allowed at outdoor running events, up to 50 people will be allowed at private events. 

Step three: In mid-July (if the situation allows), the limits on people per square metres in indoor and outdoor areas (for example shops and shopping centres) will be removed, but there is no specific change expected to the rules on gatherings and events. 

Step four: At some point in September (if the situation allows), the limit on the number of people allowed at public events and public gatherings will be removed entirely as will the limit on the number of people at private events. 

Step five: All restrictions and recommendations will be removed. There is no date suggested for these changes.

How do the five steps of reopening relate to the three levels of opening floated earlier by the Public Health Agency? 

It’s a little confusing that the government’s new five-step plan for lifting restrictions runs alongside rather than supersedes the three-level plan announced by the Public Health Agency at the end of March, although the agency tries to align the two schemes in its explanation of the government plan

Sweden still does not meet the criteria set by the agency for moving from level three, the toughest level of restrictions, to level two. 

According to the agency, level two is defined by: a 14-day infection rate of less than 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants; an infection rate that has been steadily declining for two weeks; fewer than 300 Covid-19 patients needing hospital care; and more than 50 percent of the adult population vaccinated.

The infection rate has been steadily declining for two weeks, but Sweden has only given a first vaccine dose to 44.3 percent of the adult population, and in the last weekly report the 14-day infection rate was 427 new cases per 100,000 residents.

According to Health Minister Lena Hallengren, step one of reopening corresponds to level three of the Public Health Agency’s reopening plan, level two has been split into the government’s step two and three, while the agency’s level three is split into the government’s step four and five. 

If this is the case, then the greater opening planned for July can theoretically only go ahead if the agency’s level two criteria are met. 

How likely is the reopening schedule to change if infection picks up? 

Health Minister Lena Hallengren said that the dates had been set because the authorities were confident that they could be met. 

“We don’t think we are being overconfident. We thinking we are being extremely careful, like the ‘land of Lagom’ that we are.”

(Lagom, meaning roughly “not too little, not too much”, is the Swedish concept of moderation.)

But she conceded that if this confidence turned out to be misplaced, the schedule could be changed. 

Given the speed of progress in vaccinations and the dramatic fall-off in infections Sweden experienced last summer, the odds are that the reopening can go ahead as planned, unless a particularly virulent, vaccine-immune coronavirus variant emerges. 

It is unclear whether vaccine passes will allow concerts such as this one (Bruce Springsteen in Gothenburg in 2016). Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Will vaccine passes allow people to go to nightclubs or bigger events, as has been done in Denmark? 

This is a question the government intends to issue guidelines on in mid-June.

Lena Hallengren said that vaccine passes would be only for “big events that otherwise would not be possible to be held” for infection-protection reasons, but she refused to specify whether this referred to music concerts, or football matches or nightclubs.  

Will the reopening allow demonstrations of more than 8 people? 

A demonstration counts as an unseated outdoor activity, meaning that it will not be until July 1st, when outdoor, unseated events of up to 600 people will be allowed, that even medium-sized demonstrations can be held under the restrictions. 

Students at an upper secondary school in Nacka, outside Stockholm, celebrating the end of their schooldays with the tradition “utspringning” or “running out” ceremony last year. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Will schools be able to bring in parents for end-of-school celebrations? 

The agency’s director Johan Carlson said at the press conference that so long as schools release pupils for the traditional utspringning, or “running out” ceremony on a class-by-class basis, it will be OK for some parents or other adults to enter the schoolyard to receive pupils, and celebrate the end of the school year.

But he said that it was up to municipalities and individual schools to make detailed plans. 

Hallengren said that after pupils meet their parents, they should then “go for fika in small groups”. 

Most schools in Sweden end term on June 10th, with the studenten graduation ceremonies taking place in the first and second weeks of June. 

What does the reopening plan mean for Swedish Midsummer celebrations? 

As Midsummar Eve or midsommarafton falls on June 25th, it will fall under “step one” of the reopening plan, meaning smaller public Midsommar events of up to 100 people non-seated, or up to 500 people seated will be possible. 

When it comes to private Midsummer events, the agency’s recommendation remains to only meet people in your “inner circle”, and not to socialise with people you don’t normally see. If you hire premises for a private midsummer party, you are not allowed more than eight guests. 

“Our take on this is that you should stick to the narrower circle with smaller events,” Carlson said when asked at the press conference about Midsummer. 

Stockholm’s Midnight Run or Midnattsloppet in August 2019. Photo: Mats Schagerström/TT

What about sports competitions? 

The government on Thursday added a “special restriction” limiting running competitions and similar sports contests to a maximum of 150 people, which will apply from June 1st. 

Otherwise, “smaller competitions and cups” are allowed for children and youths, and football matches and other competitions for adults will be allowed from June 1st. 

From July 1st, running and other sporting competitions for up to 900 participants will be allowed, although the organisers still need to follow recommendations to avoid crowding. 

What about religious gatherings and services? 

With 50 people allowed at seated indoor events from June 1st, it will be possible to hold small services in churches and synagogues, and to restart Friday prayers on a small scale at Sweden’s mosques. 

It won’t be until July 1st, when up to 300 people will be allowed at seated indoor events, that religious services will be able to return to something approaching normal. 

What about meetings for voluntary organisations? 

From June 1st, the agency will no longer recommend that Sweden’s föreningar, the clubs and voluntary organisations that are an important part of society, hold their formal meetings digitally. They should now, it recommends offer participants the option of either partaking digitally or attending a small physical meeting.

If you have any other questions about the five-step reopening plan, feel free to email us at [email protected] 

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