Sweden introduces testing requirement for travellers from China

Sweden's health minister Jakob Forssmed and head of department at the Public Health Agency Sara Byfors on Thursday announced a negative test requirement for travellers arriving in Sweden from China, in effect from January 7th.

Sweden introduces testing requirement for travellers from China
Health minister Jakob Forssmed and head of department at the Public Health Agency, Sara Byfors, in a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/ TT

Citing a high level of Covid-19 infection in China and reduced restrictions in the country, Jakob Forssmed announced that the Swedish government has made the decision to introduce temporary travel restrictions for travellers to Sweden from China, which will apply to so-called “third country citizens”, (i.e. non-Swedish, non-EU citizens), upon arrival.

“This morning, the Swedish government has made the decision to introduce temporary travel restrictions upon entry to Sweden from China,” he said.

“This is being done, among other things, to lower the risk of a new variant of the virus causing Covid-19 entering Sweden or spreading to other countries. This decision is based on the proposal recently submitted to the government by the Public Health Agency,” he said.

Forssmed also said that the test requirement is intended to reduce strain on Swedish healthcare by delaying the introduction of a potential new variant to Sweden.

He stated that travel restrictions will apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals arriving in Sweden from China, as well as adults and children over the age of 12.

“Travel restrictions do not apply to Swedish citizens,” he added, “and there are some other exemptions, such as people with residency permits in Sweden, people with long-term EU residency, and other EU/EES citizens.”

The test requirement will come into force on January 7th and will apply for three weeks.

“This means that [restrictions] will apply at the time of the next flight from China,” he said.

Finally, Forssmed encouraged the public to help limit the spread of infection.

“I would like to underline the importance us all helping each other to limit the spread of infection by following the advice and recommendations on Covid-19 which are in place. That means: show consideration, stay at home if you have symptoms or are unwell, and get vaccinated,” he said.

Byfors, head of department at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said that a temporary test requirement is a “possible relevant measure in the current situation,” adding that the Agency is “well aware” that travel restrictions “cannot stop the spread of a new variant of the virus, as shown throughout the pandemic”.

“However, a coordinated EU response could potentially delay the introduction of a new variant of the virus, and even a slight delay is valuable in the difficult situation healthcare is under currently and has been under for a long time,” she added.

She said that the epidemiological situation in China is “difficult to assess”, with “very limited information” on which variants of the virus are present in the country compared to elsewhere in the world.

“The data we have suggest that it is the same variants of the virus that we have here, but we can also still see that we need more information.”

She added that, despite a high level of infection in Sweden, the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine has limited the impact of this on Swedish healthcare.

“However, healthcare is highly strained, not least due to the strain of RS-virus, influenza and Covid-19, and we believe this will continue throughout the winter.”

Byfors added that the Agency is also looking at the effects the Covid-19 situation in China could potentially have on Sweden and will issue a report next Wednesday.

She also echoed Forssmed’s statement to follow current advice and recommendation regarding the virus.

“Vaccinate yourself according to the current recommendations. Vaccinations are still the best way to protect yourself against the risk of serious illness,” she said.

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‘A game changer’: Airlines demand EU explain new border system for non-EU travellers

Industry associations representing airlines have called on European authorities to plan a “public communications campaign” to alert non-EU nationals about new requirements to enter and exit the Schengen area.

'A game changer': Airlines demand EU explain new border system for non-EU travellers

The EU Entry/Exit System (EES) will record the biometric data (finger prints and facial recognition) of non-EU citizens travelling for short stays to the Schengen area (EU countries minus Ireland, Romania and Bulgaria, plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland), each time they cross the external borders.

Fully digital, the system will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. The data collected will be kept in a centralised database shared among the Schengen countries.

The EES was created to tighten up border security and will ensure the enforcement of the 90-day limit in any 180-day period for tourists and visitors. But it requires changes in the infrastructure at the external borders, including airports, and the setting up of a new digital infrastructure to connect authorities in participating countries.

Its entry into operation has already been delayed several times. The latest date for the EES launch was May this year, but last week European authorities decided to postpone it again “due to delays from the contractors”. It is now expected to enter into force at the end of 2023, as The Local reported this week.

Airline associations including European region of Airports Council International (ACI), Airlines for Europe (A4E), the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the delay and said further preparations are needed.

“The EES will be a game changer for how the EU’s borders are managed. There are, however, a number of issues which must be resolved to ensure a smooth roll out and operation of the new system so that air passengers do not face disruptions,” a joint statement says.

Things to be resolved include a “wider adoption and effective implementation of automation at national border crossing points by national authorities, funding by member states to ensure a sufficient number of trained staff and resources are deployed to manage the EU’s external border, particularly at airports,” and the “deployment of sufficient resources” to help airports and airlines with new procedures.

Airlines also said there needs to be a public communications campaign to inform non-EU citizens about the changes.

In addition, industry groups called on EU-LISA, the agency responsible for managing the system, to “strengthen communication” with airlines and with international partners such as the US “to ensure IT systems are connected and compatible.”

The decision to postpone the EES entry into operation until after the summer “will give airlines, airports and EU and national authorities the opportunity to resolve these issues and ensure the system is fully tested,” the statement continues.

The EU-LISA is currently preparing a revised timeline for the launch, which will be presented for approval at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the meeting of responsible EU ministers, in March 2023.

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.