Sweden has previously strongly urged people to think twice before travelling within the country, in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus and to avoid putting too much pressure on healthcare in rural regions.
But on Wednesday, the Swedish government and Public Health Agency presented new guidelines for domestic travel, which allow for short journeys as long as certain conditions are met, for example:
- the journey should not be longer than one to two hours by car from your home
- recommendations such as avoiding direct social contact with elderly people and other groups at risk still apply, so the new guidelines do not mean short journeys to visit elderly relatives are now ok
- recommendations not to take part in large social gatherings also still apply
- your means of travel and accommodation should involve as little direct social contact as possible
In practice, the new recommendations mean that someone who commutes for work or who for example owns a summer house less than two hours away from home (which is not uncommon in Sweden) would be able to spend a weekend there without flouting official health advice as long as they are able to travel in a safe way.
However, Swedish ministers stressed that the new recommendations should not be taken as a sign that the coronavirus epidemic is over, and strongly urged people to keep following guidelines about social distancing.
“Our country chose measures that we would be able to live with for a longer period. We have not closed down everything, but we will not yet be able to return to a normal situation,” said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
The new guidelines can be seen less as a radical change and more as a clarification of previous rules, which never outright banned non-essential domestic travel but did urge people to, in the words of the Public Health Agency, “consider whether trips to cities, skiing resorts, and other popular holiday spots are necessary at this time”.
A full lockdown including significant restrictions on freedom of movement such as a curfew, or a legal ban on travel within the country, would not be possible without making major changes to Swedish legislation.
Many countries in Europe, which imposed tougher restrictions on their people than Sweden did, have slowly started coming out of lockdown. But there was no other mention made on Wednesday of easing restrictions in Sweden, with current bans on large public events and social distancing rules for restaurants still in place.
“It's a long way to go to an 'exit',” said Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson. He added that most of the advice issued by health authorities would likely be in place over the summer, but that his agency would aim to present clear recommendations for the summer holidays by early June.
Sweden's Foreign Ministry also announced at Wednesday's press conference that it would extend its recommendation to avoid non-essential overseas trips until July 15th. Read more about that here.