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COVID-19 ALERT

Sweden to lift nearly all Covid-19 restrictions next week

The Swedish government announced plans to remove the majority of restrictions against Covid-19 on February 9th in a press conference on Thursday morning.

Sweden to lift nearly all Covid-19 restrictions next week
Health Minister Lena Hallengren, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Director General of the Public Health Agency Karin Tegmark Wisell at Thursday's press conference. Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Health Minister Lena Hallengren and the Director General of the Public Health Agency, Karin Tegmark Wisell, announced that almost all restrictions will be removed on February 9th, and that those working from home should prepare to return to work.

“We can open up society”

“The pandemic is not over, but is entering a completely new phase,” said Andersson. “We are nearing the point for Sweden to open up again.”

The government explained that the decision to open up was based on a number of factors, partly that Omicron appears to be a milder variant of the virus, and partly that the percentage of Sweden’s population who are fully vaccinated or have taken a booster dose continues to increase.

“There are multiple international studies of a milder illness, and the data we have from Sweden paints the same picture,” Andersson explained. “The rate of vaccination in Sweden has been high in recent weeks,” she continued, stating that this means that “we can open up society, at least for all who have been vaccinated”.

Almost 50 percent of over-18s in Sweden have received their third dose of the vaccine, and more than 86 percent of over-12s have received their first dose. Sweden does not recommend the Covid vaccines to children under the age of 12, unless they are particularly at risk.

Health Minister Lena Hallengren also stated that “the government is planning on removing travel restrictions introduced on December 21st for the Nordic countries”, stating that they would provide more information as soon as it was possible.

She didn’t say anything about travel restrictions for other countries. Sweden’s current entry rules for EU/EEA arrivals are currently in place until February 28th, and March 31st for people travelling from other countries.

In terms of returning to work and higher education, Hallengren stated that “in order to prevent a new wave, the return to work and school should occur successively”.

Which restrictions will be removed?

The following restrictions will be removed next week:

  • Indoor events of 20-50 people must be seated, with max 8 per group and one metre between groups
  • Vaccination pass needed for indoor events with more than 50 attendees
  • Trade shows and markets indoors must require a vaccine pass if they have more than 50 guests, and number of guests is capped at 500, with 10 square metres per person
  • Restaurants must close at 11pm, with alcohol serving ending at 10.30pm
  • Groups at restaurants may consist of a maximum of eight people, with a minimum of one metre between groups
  • Restaurants with concerts or other entertainment may only have seated guests
  • Maximum of 20 people at private parties in hired venues
  • Shops must have a maximum number of guests permitted, calculated on area with 10 square metres per person – this also applies to gyms, museums, art galleries, theme parks and swimming pools
  • Long-distance public transport: all travellers must have a seat, if possible

In addition to this, special recommendations for those who have not yet been vaccinated will remain, as well as recommendations to stay home when sick, or if you suspect you may have Covid-19.

Covid-19 ‘no longer a danger to society’

The Public Health Agency also believes that Covid-19 should no longer be classified as an illness presenting a danger to society. Therefore, the agency has sent a request to the government in order to reclassify the illness.

“The government will process this request in a swift manner and will also put forward a law proposal to reclassify Covid-19,” Hallengren said, indicating that this could happen by the end of March.

After the government has submitted these proposals, parliament will make the final decision on whether to approve them or not.

Sweden confirmed its highest number of daily new cases of Covid-19 last week, the highest level yet during the pandemic. There was also a clear rise in the number of Covid-linked deaths and intensive care admissions last month, albeit not as much as during previous waves.

With over 16,000 fatalities so far, Sweden’s death toll is in line with the European average, but is far higher than those of neighbouring Norway, Finland and Denmark.

Denmark on Tuesday became the first European Union country to lift most of its domestic Covid-19 restrictions, followed later in the day by Norway.

Member comments

  1. It is really good that Europe feels confident enough to remove Covid rules, we have been living with these burdens for so long this feels like a breath of fresh air.

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COVID-19

How much should we be concerned about rising Covid-19 rates in Sweden?

Covid-19 cases are once again escalating in more than a hundred countries, including Sweden, with the new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, both harder to track and more resistant to vaccines. Should we be worried?

How much should we be concerned about rising Covid-19 rates in Sweden?

How much reason is there to worry that Covid-19 is back? 

It depends if you are an ordinary citizen or a hospital manager. 

Peter Nilsson, an epidemiology professor at Lund University, told The Local that as over 85 percent of the Swedish population had received at least two doses, he did not expect the number becoming seriously ill to return to the levels seen in 2020 and 2021.  

“The Swedish population has a high degree of vaccination immunisation and it is unlikely that the situation will get serious,” he said. 

But there is a nonetheless a risk that the rising rates of infection will put pressure on some hospitals, particularly when many staff are off for their summer breaks. 

“More people will need hospital care as a result, and if healthcare staff fall ill with Covid-19 at the same time as there is holiday staffing at many hospitals and care facilities, this may mean an increased burden on healthcare,” Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Lindblom said in a press release

Patrik Söderberg, the head doctor for the Stockholm Region, warned that the the rise in the number of patients with Covid-19 in hospitals was “a clear step in the wrong direction”. 

How and why are Covid-19 rates rising in Sweden? 

According to the Swedish Public Health Authority, over 3,000 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Sweden in the final two weeks of June, a 41% rise from the two previous weeks.

The reason is that the new BA.5 variant of omicron has become dominant in Sweden, and there is growing evidence that BA.5 is better at infecting both those who have received a vaccine and those who have previously contracted Covid-19. 

There is also clear evidence, however, that vaccinations continue to offer protection against life-threatening conditions and death, even with BA.5, and there is currently no evidence that the variant causes a more severe version of the disease. 

Although Lindblom said it was impossible to predict the length of time the virus would continue to spread, he warned that Sweden could see rising infection rates for several weeks to come. 

What’s been happening outside Sweden? 

According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, the pandemic is changing, but not over. 

“Cases are on the rise in 110 countries, causing overall global cases to increase by 20%,” he said in a media briefing at the end of last month. “Our ability to track the virus is under threat as reporting and genomic sequences are declining, meaning it’s becoming harder to track Omicron and analyse future emerging variants.”

Some countries have responded by extending or bringing back Covid-19 restrictions. 

China has maintained some of the toughest restrictions, and while other countries have mostly been easing them, but as cases continue to rise, some may soon bring back restrictions such as mandatory masks and stricter contact tracing. 

Italy has extended the need to use masks on public transport until the end of September. Germany and Ireland are thinking about making them mandatory for a few months to curb the new, highly resistant variants.

The WHO and several other organisations are encouraging more vaccination campaigns and booster shots.

So is there a risk of Covid-19 restrictions returning in Sweden too? 

Sweden saw some of the world’s most relaxed regulations during the pandemic, and it looks unlikely that even those will be reimposed. The only change so far is that hospitals have once again made masks mandatory. 

What is being done to keep Covid-19 under control? 

Adults in risk groups and those over 65 are encouraged to take a top-up dose starting on September 1st. A fourth booster will be free for adults of various ages soon after that.

An autumn immunisation policy is also being developed, Anders Lindblom told Svenska Dagbladet, with details to be announced in the coming weeks. 

What Covid-19 recommendations still apply in Sweden? 

  • Everyone above the age of 12 should receive a Covid-19 vaccination, according to the Swedish Public Health Agency. It lessens the chance of developing fatal diseases and dying.
  • Anyone experiencing symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, fever or cough are recommended to stay at home,  even those who have been vaccinated or who have previously had COVID-19.
  • Unvaccinated people are more likely to suffer significant COVID-19 illness. An unvaccinated person should take extra precautions and stay away from crowded indoor spaces to prevent getting sick.
  • The general population is no longer advised to undergo PCR testing, even if they experience symptoms, with the exception expectant mothers, those working in health and elderly care, and those providing care for patients with weakened immune systems who are at a high risk of developing a serious illness. 
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