Sweden to go ahead with next stage of Covid-19 re-opening plan

From Thursday July 1st, Sweden will ease some of its Covid-19 restrictions, allowing more guests at events and relaxing the rules in place at restaurants.

Sweden to go ahead with next stage of Covid-19 re-opening plan
Among the rule changes are a relaxation of the restrictions on restaurants and bars. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Up to 300 people will be allowed at seated indoor events, and up to 3,000 for outdoor events, while for non-seated events the limits will be 50 indoors, 600 outdoors, and 900 at outdoor running events and races. The limits will also be subject to social distancing rules which means they may be lower depending on individual venues.

Restaurants and pubs will be able to extend their opening times beyond 10.30pm, and for outdoor seating areas the limit on the number of guests per table will be removed.

The confirmation of the next stage of Sweden’s re-opening plan was announced on Monday by Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren, Public Health Agency general director Johan Carlson and Culture Minister Amanda Lind.

“From Thursday, life can start to go back to a little bit more like it was before the pandemic,” Hallengren announced.

The criteria set out by the Public Health Agency for these changes to happen include: fewer than 300 people needing hospital care due to Covid-19, fewer than 70 requiring intensive care for Covid-19; infection rates below 200 new cases per 100,000 residents over the preceding two weeks and steadily declining for at least two weeks; and at least 50 percent of the adult population vaccinated with at least one dose. 

Those criteria have been met, but state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell emphasised last week that the decision would be made on an “overall assessment” in order to reduce the risk of facing setbacks as a result.

The next stage – currently planned for mid-July but dependent on how the pandemic develops – would see limits removed on passengers on long-distance trains and buses, and limits removed on people per square metre in indoor and outdoor areas (for example shops and shopping centres).

“Our ambition is to be able to keep to our plan, with Step 3 on July 15th and Steps 4 and 5 in the autumn,” said Lena Hallengren.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.