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How do international residents feel about Sweden lifting Covid restrictions?

Sweden lifted almost all Covid-19 restrictions on Wednesday. We asked The Local's readers how they feel about this, and got over 100 responses – here's what they told us.

How do international residents feel about Sweden lifting Covid restrictions?
An outdoor concert at Kungsträdgården in Stockholm after pandemic restrictions were eased for the first time in September 2021. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Almost all of Sweden’s Covid-19 restrictions and regulations were removed on Wednesday, including vaccine pass requirements at public events, limits on the number of people in shops, and early closing times in restaurants. 

We asked The Local’s readers how they felt about the move, and received over 100 responses. The survey was not scientific, but it’s clear that readers were split on whether the lifting of restrictions was a good idea, with responses ranging from “awful” to “awesome”.

Fifty-two respondents were negative towards lifting restrictions. Forty-eight expressed positivity towards the removal of restrictions, and five gave mixed responses. An additional 10 respondents were unsure as to how much difference it would make in practice, stating that it didn’t feel like Sweden had implemented that many restrictions in the first place.

‘Too soon’

Geraldine from Ireland felt that “it is too soon to lift all restrictions”, adding that “mask wearing should be compulsory for adults on public transport and in shops”.

A 29-year-old British reader had the same view, stating that it “seemed a little premature when they announced it, especially as we had not yet reached the peak of this new wave at that point”. She suggested that Sweden should “maybe follow other countries and have LFTs (lateral flow tests, also known as rapid tests or antigen tests) available to order to home so people can test maybe once a week before travelling to know that they do not have the virus”.

She was, however, somewhat positive towards lifting restrictions, stating that “with all that being said, it would be nice to get back to some sense of normality after almost two years of chaos”.

Another reader, a man from Portugal in his 40s working in IT, stated that he felt it was a “rushed decision made to get the economy back on track, at the expense of the people. At a time when the number of deaths (not just infections) is going up, it’s quite interesting that a number of countries move to lift most (if not all) restrictions at the same time”.

As of February 4th, the date on which Sweden’s most recent weekly report was published, Sweden was reporting the highest rate of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in a single week (January 24th-30th), despite a 10 percent decrease in the testing rate. As February 4th was a Thursday, this was the last complete week for which we have data.

In the same week, 265,707 people tested positive for Covid-19 in Sweden, an increase of 3 percent on the previous week. An average of 82 people per week were treated for Covid-19 in intensive care in the three weeks prior to January 24th, with 78 ICU patients reported for Monday-Thursday last week.

In terms of deaths, 119 people infected with Covid-19 died between January 24th-30th within 30 days of contracting the virus. This number was 200 the week prior, and 165 the week before that.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark, after the country eased restrictions for the first time in June 2021. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

‘Just doing it because Denmark is’

A number of respondents felt that Sweden had chosen to lift restrictions due to Denmark’s decision to do so a week earlier. One of these respondents was Hilton Mather, who said that Sweden was “going too quickly,” and that it “seems like they are just doing it because Denmark is, it’s going to bite them in the butt”.

Another reader living on the island of Gotland said the same thing, stating that the lifting of restrictions seemed “unsafe, considering the rise in deaths”. He felt that Sweden’s decision was “only because Denmark lifted restrictions”.

Andrew, a British reader, felt that the decision “seems to be a political move so as not to be seen as being behind their Nordic neighbours”, adding that it “does not reflect the reality of Sweden’s currently low booster level”.

In Sweden, 53.1 percent of the over-18 population have received their booster dose, as of February 8th. In Denmark, 61.3 percent of the population aged 10 and over have had their booster dose as of February 8th, and in Norway, 64.9 percent of the over-12 population have received their booster dose, as of February 7th.

‘Numbers are still so high’

Aaron, a dual American/Swedish citizen living in Kronoberg, felt that Sweden’s decision was “irresponsible”. She added that “cases and hospitalisations are rising especially in my area. I think they just want an excuse to stop posting statistics”.

“It feels really random and unscientific just to lift everything at once, when numbers are still so high and testing is restricted to such specific groups,” a reader who works as a consultant in Stockholm told us. “It feels like every business meeting online is postponed or has participants missing due to illness. Specifically encouraging people to go back to the office when there are already such widespread disruptions to productivity in the past few weeks just seems like it will cause more chaos,” she added.

From February 9th, free PCR tests will only be offered to patients, users and staff within healthcare and elderly care.

File photo of a pregnant woman wearing a face mask. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

‘Opening the floodgates’

Some respondents were worried for their own health or the health of their family members in risk groups. One of these who described herself as “a new mum, scared despite having two doses of the vaccination”, felt that the decision to lift restrictions was “opening the floodgates”, adding that “when I was pregnant and my husband got Covid, despite the masks, it felt like society failed us. It’s like people wearing masks were discriminated, yet that was the most human thing to do for your neighbour who you’d meet in the elevator who is 85 years old.”

She further added that “I’m a new mum, and I will not be comfortable taking my child out on walks because who knows who I’ll meet in front of me? Who knows if they are vaccinated? And opening up like this suddenly, if my child were to fall gravely ill, who takes that responsibility?”

‘What happens if public services crash?’

An artist from Singapore stated that they felt “awful” about restrictions being lifted.

“It feels as if there is no solidarity here, no adherence to science, just bullheaded determination to pretend everything is OK. Is it not enough that healthcare workers have PTSD and vulnerable people have been self-isolating for over two years? What happens if public sectors such as schools and hospitals really crash?” they added.

“My partner’s mum is one of the last few teachers standing at her school – who’s protecting her? Who’s protecting her at-risk husband? I’m in utter despair and am considering moving back to my native country, even though I used to love my life here a lot. There’s so much I could say about everything that’s going on right now, but I’m ultimately exhausted,” they continued.

‘We can’t wait to have zero Covid cases to go back to normalcy’

An Indian reader in Gothenburg described the decision to lift restrictions as “In one word: perfect! This has gone on long enough, I think we all know enough about Covid to care for our own safety: wash your hands, don’t get too close to people, stay home if you are feeling ill and so on… we can’t wait to have zero Covid cases to go back to normalcy!”

“What all of these restrictions across the globe don’t seem to care about is what it does to people’s mental and social health! Sweden can be a lonely place for foreigners as it is, and add to that all the restrictions it has been a nightmare! Haven’t met someone new in Sweden for over two years now. I think it is time everyone takes responsibility for their own safety, get vaccinated and go back to their normal lives,” he added.

‘It’s a relief’

An Erasmus student studying in Sweden stated that, although she felt unsure about whether lifting restrictions was a good idea or not, it was “a relief, because I can experience more of the typical Swedish student life here in my Erasmus semester. I have Covid currently anyways, so I don’t fear getting infected any more”.

Anne Culver, a retired American in her 70s, said that she was “happy that there will be no restrictions affecting my theatre and restaurant visits during my upcoming travel to Stockholm”, adding that she “might still wear a mask on public transport”.

Another respondent, a man named Rajeev, stated that the lifting of restrictions was a “great feeling”, which “gives hope of restoring normalcy”.

A student from the Netherlands living in Uppsala felt “relieved”, adding that “it will start to feel normal again, without stressing about every little cough”.

‘Good that recommendations change’

Sunjita, a business analyst from India, felt that it was “good that recommendations change with the changing impact of the pandemic”.

Mario, a German environmental consultant living in Gothenburg was also positive to the planned changes, stating that “I think if the Public Health Agency and National Board of Health and Welfare think that hospitals can deal with it, as well as if Covid is more endemic than pandemic then it is fine”.

“I’m actually looking forward to normal life again, just hoping that people will continue to be cautious if they feel sick and stay at home, rather than taking ibuprofen and going to work anyway,” he added.

Nilanka from Sri Lanka, based in Malmö, felt a similar way: “I think it’s good as long as people know to understand when they are sick, and don’t go out while they are sick”.

‘It’s a good decision’

Yonglin Zhuo, a Chinese man working in Stockholm felt that it was “a good decision and good timing so we can move forwards”, adding that he “would like to say ‘thank you’ to all the staff who have been working so hard fighting against the virus. They made a great contribution to the whole society”.

Over 50 percent of Sweden’s over-18 population have now had their third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

A Turkish reader based in Malmö was also “happy about Sweden’s decision”. She added that “now that the majority have their two vaccines and are increasingly booking their booster shots, I believe it should be safer to go out and mingle with people. The virus is changing with each variant and the vaccines are not going to prevent us 100 percent from being infected, but they will reduce the effects of the illness. I think we all will eventually get it and overcome it.”

‘Will bring the economy back to life’

Erycom Mutebi, living in Upplands Väsby, felt that it was “OK to lift all the restrictions, as long as Sweden has vaccinated 80 percent of the population”. He felt that “this will bring the economy back to life”. Muteby, however, felt that he “would prefer that the restriction at the land, sea and air borders stayed in place. Whoever is not vaccinated or does not have a PCR test should be denied entry in to Sweden”.

‘Why isn’t the non-EU travel restriction being removed?’

A common response from The Local’s readers was questioning why non-EU countries were not included in Sweden’s decision to lift entry restrictions.

From February 9th, arrivals from within the EU, EEA or the Nordic countries will no longer need to present a vaccine pass or proof of negative test on arrival. However, current entry restrictions for non-EU/EEA countries will remain in place for now, “in accordance with EU recommendations regarding entry from third countries”, a government statement said.

This means that people travelling to Sweden from non-EU countries will still not be able enter the country directly unless they are an exemption from the entry ban.

One reader based in Stockholm who hadn’t seen her mother for two years felt “great” about restrictions being lifted, as she would be able to meet friends again, but felt that “non-EU travellers should be allowed to enter Sweden”.

Maria, a Russian student at the University of Lund, asked “why isn’t the non-EU travel restriction being removed as well?”

“Do we have a different type of Covid or what?” she added. “And why is the Russian vaccine not approved? It’s madness, I’ve had to vaccinate myself 3+3 times.”

Another respondent, an Indian PhD student at Chalmers University, echoed Maria’s sentiments. “Restrictions for all vaccinated people from all countries should be lifted as well,” he said. “There is enough data to suggest that these travel lockdowns are of absolutely no use. All you need is one person from the exempted list of people to bring the new variant into the country and then it spreads like wildfire”.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the survey for sharing your thoughts. Please note that this was not scientific: We asked our readers to share their thoughts on Sweden’s decision to lift Covid-19 restrictions, and closed the survey after we had received over 100 responses. It was optional for respondents to share information about their nationality, and those who chose to share this information came from at least 29 different countries. The comments published here are intended as a representative sample of the responses we received.

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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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