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COVID-19

KEY POINTS: How Sweden’s Covid-19 rules have changed

UPDATED: Sweden lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions on September 29th, including both laws and recommendations. Here's a rundown of what the changes mean for you.

KEY POINTS: How Sweden's Covid-19 rules have changed
People walking through Malmö in October last year. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Bars and restaurants

All the remaining restrictions that apply to restaurants and bars are removed as of September 29th.

The rules that were in place up until this date stated that places that serve food and drink must take measures to avoid crowding, including making sure that guests are able to keep a distance of at least a metre to other groups of guests and not allowing more than eight people per group indoors. These were strict legal limits, and restaurants faced fines if found in violation of them.

Now, there are no legal limits on distancing between tables or group sizes at bars and restaurants, but be aware that some establishments may set their own rules.

Public events

Public events were one of the most strictly regulated areas during the pandemic. From September 29th, all restrictions will be removed.

Previously, seated indoor events were allowed no more than 300 attendees and seated outdoor events no more than 3,000 attendees. Other limits included a maximum of 50 people at private events organised in rented premises (Sweden has never had a pandemic limit on private events or gatherings in for example private homes).

Now, these limits are gone, paving the way for large concerts, sports matches, and other events. No proof of a Covid-19 vaccine or negative test is required for entry by law. Again, you may need to check if individual event organisers have set their own rules.

Working from home

Sweden has since spring 2020 advised everyone to work from home if the nature of their work allows.

This recommendation is lifted as of September 29th, but the Public Health Agency has advised employers to implement a return to physical workplaces “gradually”.

If an employee has symptoms, they should always work from home (or call in sick if they have to) and get tested for Covid-19, and the employer should take steps to help them work from home – note that this continues to apply even after September 29th.

For most people, the advice to work from home was only a recommendation and not legally binding, although some public sector offices were ordered to work from home during the pandemic.

Unvaccinated people should avoid close contacts

People who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 should keep a distance from people outside their closest circle, and in particular avoid close contact with people in risk groups or aged over 70, even after September 29th.

These recommendations only apply to adults aged over 18 who have not been advised against vaccination by a doctor for medical reasons.

According to the Public Health Agency’s general director, these guidelines mean that unvaccinated people should avoid going to bars, nightclubs, and large events such as theatres, concerts, and sports events. This is because now that the previous laws ensuring distancing at those venues have been removed, it may not be possible to ensure keeping a distance there.

General recommendations for the public removed

Recommendations to avoid crowding, to meet each other outdoors rather than indoors and to practise good hand hygiene are no longer be in effect after September 29th. Note the exception for unvaccinated people as explained above.

Recommendations that applied to organisations and companies (called föreskrifter in Swedish) have also been removed, including for example rules around organised sports, rules for workplaces, and for people organising events.

The Public Health Agency said that these were no longer judged to be “motivated from the perspective of infection control or public health”.

What rules still apply in Sweden?

One recommendation which still applies to everyone in Sweden after September 29th is to stay at home, get tested, and avoid contact with others if you develop Covid-19 symptoms.

Sweden’s Communicable Diseases Act also applies, which states that individuals have a legal responsibility act responsibly to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases. In practice, this means that the recommendation to stay at home and get tested if you develop symptoms should not be considered optional.

Sweden’s non-EU/EEA entry ban is at the time of writing in force until October 31st, as is the requirement for certain travellers to show a vaccine pass or a negative Covid test. It has been extended several times during the pandemic, so it could be extended further or scrapped before this date.

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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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