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COVID-19 RULES

End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden’s Covid laws really means

With the expiry of Sweden's two temporary Covid-19 laws, the downgrading of the virus's threat classification, and the end of the last travel restrictions, April, officially at least, marks the end of the pandemic. We explain what it means.

End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden's Covid laws really means
From April 1st, it will no longer be required to show a completed vaccination to enter Sweden from any country. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

What are the two laws which expire on April 1st? 

Sweden’s parliament voted last week to let the two temporary laws put in place to battle the Covid-19 pandemic expire on April 1st.

The first law is the so-called Covid-19 law, or “the law on special restrictions to limit the spread of the Covid-19 illness”, which was used during the pandemic to temporarily empower the authorities to limit the number of visitors to shops, gyms, and sports facilities. It also gave the government power to limit the number of people who could gather in public places like parks and beaches. 

The second law was the “law on temporary restrictions at serving places”. This gave the authorities, among other things, the power to limit opening times, and force bars and restaurants to only serve seated customers.  

What impact will their expiry have? 

The immediate impact on life in Sweden will be close to zero, as the restrictions imposed on the back of these two laws were lifted months ago. But it does means that if the government does end up wanting to bring back these infection control measures, it will have to pass new versions of the laws before doing so. 

How is the classification of Covid-19 changing? 

The government decided at the start of February that it would stop classifying Covid-19 both as a “critical threat to society” and “a disease that’s dangerous to the public” on April 1st.

These classifications empowered the government under the infectious diseases law that existed in Sweden before the pandemic to impose health checks on inbound passengers, place people in quarantine, and ban people from entering certain areas, among other measures. 

What impact will this change have? 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a disease that’s dangerous to the public”, or an allmänfarlig sjukdom, people who suspect they have caught the virus, are no longer expected to visit a doctor or get tested, and they cannot be ordered to get tested by a court on the recommendation of an infectious diseases doctor. People with the virus can also no longer be required to aid with contact tracing or to go into quarantine. 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a critical threat to society”, or samhällsfarlig, the government can no longer order health checks at border posts, quarantine, or ban people from certain areas. 

The end of Sweden’s last remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions

Sweden’s last remaining travel restriction, the entry ban for non-EU arrivals, expired on March 31st.  This means that from April 1st, Sweden’s travel rules return to how they were before the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

No one will be required to show a vaccination or test certificate to enter the country, and no one will be barred from entering the country because their home country or departure country is not deemed to have a sufficiently good vaccination program or infection control measures. 

Does that mean the pandemic is over? 

Not as such. Infection rates are actually rising across Europe on the back of yet another version of the omicron variant. 

“There is still a pandemic going on and we all need to make sure that we live with it in a balanced way,” the Public Health Agency’s director-general, Karin Tegmark Wisell, told SVT

Her colleague Sara Byfors told TT that this included following the “fundamental recommendation to stay home if you are sick, so you don’t spread Covid-19 or any other diseases”. 

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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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