Expat Essentials

Expat Essentials: Sweden is open, but should you visit? Here are the facts

(Editor’s note: Terry Boyd also contributed to this post on Sweden.)

At the moment, Sweden is one of the few countries in Europe you can (theoretically) just jump on a plane and visit, assuming you can get a flight from where you are, or even get past your own border. (There are daily flights to Sweden from our headquarters in the Netherlands, for example)

Of course, we’re not saying you should visit Sweden in the middle of a pandemic, only that you could, because it’s essentially the only country open to Europeans at the moment.

Sweden has been the pandemic outlier, closing schools, but leaving open everything else, trusting Swedes to do the right thing and practice social distancing.

Unlike its neighbors in Scandinavia, Sweden went all in on herd immunity, the concept that the more people infected and with virus antibodies, the faster the pandemic is over in lieu of a vaccine. The goal is reducing the rate of infection so the healthcare system can cope.

And it’s kind of worked, at least by the Swedish definition of success.

COUNTRY PROFILE

As of 24 April, the country has about 17,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 2,000 deaths. That’s considerably more than in the rest of Scandinavia, but far fewer than in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, both in absolute and relative terms, according to Bloomberg News.

Worldometer

On 23 April, Sweden reported the highest number of new cases so far, 751, in a 24-hour period. But deaths reported in 24 hours dropped to 84 on 23 April from the historic high of 185 on 21 April.

Just how accurate data is coming from any country is the great known unknown. But working with the data we have, the key metric in separating devastated populations from relatively healthy ones is deaths per million in population.

As of 24 April, Sweden has reported 200 deaths for every million in population. That rate is more than three times higher than Austria, with 58 and roughly the same number of cases. But it’s far lower than Belgium with 560 deaths per million of population, the highest rate in the world at the moment.

THE OVERALL RULES

The country’s leaders have called on citizens to practice social distancing by choice: they were instructed to use their judgment and to take individual responsibility rather than top-down control. Sweden has left its schools, gyms, cafes, bars, and restaurants open throughout the spread of the pandemic. Instead, the government has urged citizens to act responsibly and follow social distancing guidelines.

Sweden has opted for a calmer – and highly controversial – approach led by the state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell. Instead of draconian lockdown, social distancing is a matter of self-regulation, according to the Guardian.

According to Bloomberg News, some analysts believe that in refusing to close down businesses, the Swedish economy could have an easier time rebounding than countries that have shuttered businesses completely.

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR RESTAURANTS AND THEIR GUESTS?

Restaurants, bars, and cafés around the country need to take special precaution regarding the risk of crowds of people in queues, around tables, and at buffets or bars. Visitors must be able to keep distance from each other. All visitors should sit at tables when they eat or drink, rather than stand at a bar or similar. Staff should serve food and drinks at the tables.

Unless it creates queues or crowding, guests may order and pick up their food at a counter. Take-outs can be handled as usual, as long as it does not lead to crowding or close contact between people.

CAN SPORTS AND EXERCISE ACTIVITIES CONTINUE?

Exercise and sports activities can continue, but precautionary measures should be taken.

General advice for all sports and exercise activities is:

  • anyone who is ill, even with only mild symptoms, should not participate in activities. They should remain at home until symptoms clear, then add an additional two days of self-quarantine. If you fall ill during exercise you should go home immediately.
  • elderly people, particularly those over the age of 70, should avoid public spaces and minimize their social contacts, and therefore not participate in indoor activities.
  • avoid exercise forms that involve close contact.
  • do not share water bottles, protective gear or other equipment that might transmit saliva.
  • wipe down exercise equipment that is used by many people, such as gym machines, with a disinfectant after use.
  • provide access to hand washing facilities or alcohol-based hand rub, and encourage everybody to maintain good hand hygiene.

WHAT IS THE SITUATION FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT, WORKPLACES AND SCHOOLS?

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has decided that, for the time being, it is important that public transport continues to operate and those who are healthy can get to work or school. Workplaces and schools can try to minimize activities when many people gather together.

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR MAJOR EVENTS?

The Swedish government has decided to stop all public gatherings and events with more than 50 people.

The Swedish Public Order Act sets out what is meant by a public gathering or event. Examples are demonstrations, theatre performances, and concerts which are arranged for the public or to which the public has access. Anyone who organizes an event of more than 50 people can be fined or imprisoned for up to six months. Schools, public transportation, private functions, gyms, libraries, restaurants and visits to supermarkets do not fall under this legislation.

THE BORDER

Swedish officials decided on 17 March to temporarily stop non-essential travel to Sweden from all countries except those in the European Economic Area and Switzerland. The decision took effect on 19 March and initially applied for 30 days but Sweden has extended the ban on non-EEA citizens until 15 May.

Swedish citizens and people who are residents in Sweden will be able to return to Sweden. Nor does the entry ban apply to people who have particularly important grounds for traveling to Sweden. This includes diplomats, people in need of international protection and people who are to carry out essential functions in Sweden, such as health care professionals and people transporting goods to Sweden. The entry ban applies primarily to foreign citizens attempting to enter Sweden from all countries except those in the EEA and Switzerland.

Here is the official government page.

Here is the official page of the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

See our Sweden travel archive here.

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