Coronavirus: What you can and can’t do in Sweden this Christmas

Coronavirus: What you can and can't do in Sweden this Christmas
You can still admire the Christmas lights, pictured here last year in Stockholm, but do it safely. Photo: Johan Mard/Folio/Imagebank.sweden.se
Christmas this year looks very different in Sweden: some of the traditional festivities must take place online or in scaled-down formats, while others cannot go ahead at all.

Christmas shopping: Avoid going in person if possible

The advice from the authorities is to avoid crowded shops or shopping centres altogether, keep a distance from other people in public places, and shop on your own rather than with friends or families when you have to visit the shops.

Shops and shopping centres are expected to take their own measures, including ensuring distance at checkouts and limiting maximum numbers in store, but individuals have a duty to help out too.

That means realising that the guidelines are there to limit total numbers and therefore protect everyone's health – not to give you the chance for a festive shopping experience without the crowds. Shop online rather than in person if possible, avoid non-essential visits to shops and shopping centres (buying groceries or medicines counts as essential). If you are ordering online and need to pick up your items from a package handling centre, make sure to follow guidelines while collecting them, such as keeping a distance from other customers and avoiding busy times.


Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Travel within Sweden: Yes, but use caution

The government has asked everyone planning to travel within the country to consider whether the trip is really necessary, and if it is, to carry it out in as safe a way as possible.

That means avoiding public transport if you can, and especially forms of transport where you cannot book a designated seat. If that's not possible (and even if it is) you should avoid busy times such as rush hour if you can.

And it also means taking extra precautions to reduce making new contacts on the journey and at your destination, as well as making a plan to isolate yourself if you develop symptoms during or after your trip.

We've gone into more detail about the guidance for travel in the article below:

Visiting family: Yes, but use caution

Sweden has not set an official limit on the number of people or households that can mix over Christmas, but instead has asked everyone to keep to a small 'bubble' of no more than eight close friends or family members over the whole festive period.

You can visit friends or family members, whether they live nearby or not, but should follow the recommendations for travel and be aware it's very difficult to completely remove the risks of close contact. You should also avoid being part of multiple bubbles. This means you should speak to the people who are in your bubble to make sure that the total number of contacts is as low as possible, and so that everyone can make a risk assessment.

If you want to visit a relative in a care home, you should first check if there is a local visitor ban in place. If there isn't, you should let the care home know in advance, find out their routines for reducing infection risk during visits, and follow the recommendations carefully.

Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson said that if you will be visiting an elderly relative, you should follow recommendations extra carefully for ten to 14 days before travelling to reduce your risk of catching the coronavirus and passing it to them. He emphasised that if you travel to meet an elderly relative, you should make sure not to go out shopping, meet other people or go to places where you would be around lots of other people. And it's a good idea to avoid hugs and keep rooms ventilated if meeting someone who is in a coronavirus risk group.

He urged people to make their own risk assessments, bearing in mind that it is almost impossible to completely remove the risk. For example, rather than several siblings and their families travelling to meet a grandparent, it would be safer for fewer people to meet them. Gatherings could be held outside if possible, or in well-ventilated rooms where it is possible to keep a distance and for a shorter time than usual.  


Photo:  Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

Church services: Maximum limit of 8 people applies

The law banning public events of more than eight people applies to all church services, including mass, weddings and baptisms. The only exception is funerals, where up to 20 people may attend.

Most Christmas services and concerts have gone digital instead: you can check out the offerings from the Swedish Church here.

Christmas markets: Online only

The ban on public events of more than eight people, and recommendation to ensure social distancing in all public places, means that Christmas markets across the country have been cancelled this year.

Some have moved online, allowing you to support local small businesses from home (try searching digital julmarknad and the name of your city or town).

But wandering through the rows of cosy wooden stalls with a glass of glögg will have to wait until another year.


A Christmas market in Stockholm's Old Town in a normal year. Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se

Christmas parties: Only with your closest 'bubble' of no more than eight

Most countries mark the festive season with gatherings of friends and family and Sweden is no different, with events like advent fikas, mulled wine mingles and parties usually on the calendar.

This year, you should limit these activities to your very closest friends and/or family members, or move them online instead.

There is no legal limit on the number of people who may meet for private gatherings, but the government has said that a maximum of eight should be “the new norm” for all social activities.

What's more, you should stick to the same group of no more than eight to limit the number of overall contacts, which means you should not meet one group of seven friends on one day and then a few days later spend time with a different group of friends or family members. If you get an invitation to a gathering that doesn't follow these guidelines, you could follow the advice of Stockholm's regional healthcare director and explain to your friend why it's a bad idea to have this kind of event.

Dining out: Only with your closest 'bubble' of no more than eight

No more than eight people may dine together at Sweden's restaurants, and you should also stick to your close 'bubble' when dining out.

Other rules apply, including table service only and a minimum one-metre distance between tables. The changes mean many restaurants have cancelled the traditional julbord or Christmas buffet, but many are also offering a home-delivered version, where you and your friends can each have the food delivered to your home to heat up and enjoy together, separately. 

Outdoor activities: Yes, but not in large groups

Despite the chilly weather, a lot of typical Swedish winter activities take place outdoors: admiring Christmas lights, skiing or ice-skating if you live in a region with snow, or going for a winter walk.

Meeting outdoors is safer than indoors from an infection perspective, so Swedish authorities have encouraged winter socialising to take place outside if possible. However, the calls to limit close contacts as much as possible apply both indoors and outdoors, so it's not an excuse to meet more people outside your close 'bubble'.

Sweden has no curfew or limit on when or how often you can leave the house, unlike several other countries. This means you can spend as much time outside as you like, providing you follow other guidelines including social distancing and limiting close contacts.

You should also be aware that there are risks other than the coronavirus, such as slipping on icy paths. Healthcare authorities in regions like Stockholm and Skåne, dealing with a large burden on the healthcare sector, have appealed to residents to be extra careful in general, because accidents unrelated to the virus also increase the burden on hospitals and medical staff.


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