‘The Sweden that was hit by Covid-19 was not perfect’

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven vowed to rebuild a stronger and better Sweden in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as he addressed the opening of parliament on Tuesday.

'The Sweden that was hit by Covid-19 was not perfect'
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Löfven spoke at an unusual opening session of the Riksdag, with only half of his cabinet ministers and 190 of Sweden's 349 members of parliament present due to coronavirus health and safety measures, as well as King Carl XVI Gustaf, Queen Silvia, and a limited number of guests.

The prime minister's speech is meant to set out the broad themes of the government's policy for the year ahead, and unsurprisingly much of it touched on the pandemic.

In his speech, the Social Democrat leader said Sweden and its welfare state was “a country to be proud of”, but he also addressed some of the flaws laid bare by the coronavirus, which fatally swept though many Swedish elderly care homes at an alarmingly fast rate earlier this year.

“The Sweden that was hit by Covid-19 was not perfect, with deficiencies in care for older people, ongoing climate change that impacts our children's future, and cracks in the welfare system that is meant to guarantee people's security,” said Löfven, pledging to invest more in those areas.

“That's why we will not go back to how Sweden was before the crisis. We will build back even better.”

A slimmed-down version of the Swedish parliament met on Tuesday. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Löfven also spoke of foreign policy, reiterating the Swedish government's support for “the Belarusian people's quest for democracy” as well as for “Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity” and “the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle to preserve Hong Kong's autonomy”.

Violent crime has been a hot topic in Sweden in recent years, and Löfven spoke of reinforcing the police and tougher punishments aimed at cracking down on organised crime. “When gangs spread fear and violence, those affected are often hard-working people living in vulnerable areas,” he said.

“But to succeed, it is vital that we stop recruitment into crime. No teenager should ever see a life of crime as their future. The engagement of all members of society is essential to achieve this.”

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

The prime minister also mentioned Sweden's parliamentary inquiry into overhauling current migration law. The inquiry is set to present its final report, after which negotiations to tighten laws will get under way.

“Anyone coming to Sweden who is not entitled to stay must return. But every person who flees to Sweden and is entitled to stay must receive all the help they need to become part of this society.”

You can read the full English translation of the speech here.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”