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COVID-19 ALERT

Sweden sets tentative date for lifting Covid restrictions

Sweden may lift most of its Covid restrictions starting February 9th, if the ongoing outbreak of the Omicron variant peaks by then and vaccinations continue apace, Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a press conference on Wednesday.

Sweden sets tentative date for lifting Covid restrictions
Swedish Health Minister Lena Hallengren. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

She was joined by Karin Tegmark Wisell, director-general of the Public Health Agency, at the press conference.

Tegmark Wisell said 270,000 new cases had been confirmed with PCR tests in the past seven days, but that the agency believes that the outbreak is currently so widespread that the true figure could be a least half a million people a week. Some 10 million people live in Sweden.

She said that the agency believes “the peak will be reached in the next few weeks”.

“At the same time we can clearly see that the pandemic has entered a new phase,” she said, putting this down to the fact that more and more people are getting their third dose of the vaccine and that the Omicron variant appears to have a milder impact in general.

“It is our assessment that another two weeks [of restrictions] should be enough to make it past the peak. In this time another million people will get the opportunity to get vaccinated,” she said, adding that Sweden’s record-high infection rate is causing staff shortages in healthcare, elderly care and other key sectors but has since the turn of the year not led to a corresponding increase in serious illness and fatalities.

Hospitalisations and deaths have both increased during the current wave, but not as much as during previous outbreaks.

Sweden’s restrictions currently include, among other measures, mandatory Covid vaccine passes at public events with more than 50 people, 11pm closing time for bars and restaurants, a maximum number of people per square metre in shops, and an entry ban for many non-EU arrivals. Adults are also recommended to work from home, limit their close contacts and wear a face mask on crowded public transport.

Neither Tegmark Wisell nor Hallengren specified which restrictions could be eased on February 9th, saying only that they would be lifted in steps – not all at once – and that the government and health authorities would present a more detailed plan next week.

Sweden has confirmed 1,973,485 positive cases since the start of the pandemic. A total of 15,768 people have died after testing positive for Covid within 30 days, and 8,527 Covid patients have been in intensive care.

New testing recommendations from the Public Health Agency, rolled out last week, mean that many regions now only offer free PCR testing to certain groups. This has led many individuals to take at-home antigen tests, which are not registered in official figures.

Member comments

  1. Omicron is so efficient in finding new hosts, that a peak in the next two weeks is equal a lack of new hosts. Restrictions will be eased consequently, but maybe a week later or so. End of february, that is it.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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