Coronavirus: Swedes risk being excluded from travelling abroad

Sweden not only has a higher level of infection, but its testing and traceability capabilities are also lower than those of its neighbours. EPA-EFE/Henrik Montgomery SWEDEN OUT [EPA-EFE/Henrik Montgomery SWEDEN OUT]

With summer approaching, many countries are preparing plans to reopen borders despite the lingering coronavirus pandemic. Sweden, however, could become a pariah because of the COVID-19’s ongoing spread there. EURACTIV Italia reports.

Denmark and Norway are preparing to reopen their borders, but both states seem to want Swedish travellers to remain at their doorstep.

Copenhagen and Oslo are easing the restrictive measures they introduced by reopening schools, shops and restaurants. Thanks to this containment – which was not enforced in Stockholm – they have been able to limit the spread of the virus.

“Our hope is to be able to control possible new waves of contagion through testing, contact monitoring and isolation. This is our hope until we have a cure or a vaccine,” Norwegian government epidemiologist Frode Forland told The Local Norway.

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Forland expressed concern about the significant spread of infection in Sweden, which is affecting the timing and process to be chosen to reopen the border.

This concern is also shared by Finland.

Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said that reaching an agreement to allow travel between Scandinavian countries could prove difficult.

“Norway, Denmark and Iceland have managed to stabilise the situation. In Sweden, the situation is more worrying,” Ohisalo stressed, suggesting that Finland could implement differentiated policies regarding its borders with Estonia and Sweden, depending on the situation in each country.

Mika Salminen, the director of Finland’s Department of Health Security, said tourists from Denmark and Norway may pose less risk than those arriving from Sweden. The number of deaths due to coronavirus is significantly higher in Sweden than in its neighbouring countries and is even higher than the number of deaths in all other Nordic countries combined.

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Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia opened their borders to each other at the stroke of midnight, creating the first “travel bubble” within the European Union in a bid to jump-start economies broken down by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Anders Tegnell, who heads the Swedish Public Health Agency, the fact that there are more infections in the country could, on the contrary, make its citizens less likely to get sick. However, the theory based on the idea that contracting coronavirus guarantees subsequent immunity is not conclusive, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Various studies suggest that infected people have certain antibodies that, according to the WHO, should probably “provide some level of protection,” but there is still no evidence that this leads to full immunity.

Tegnell also argued that foreign visitors are not the main culprits for infection in the Nordic countries, noting that it was locals who had travelled abroad that brought back the virus.

Commission to adopt broad summer package on 13 May

Prospects for the coming summer season may get a bit clearer for Europeans next Wednesday (13 May) when the European Commission is expected to adopt a broad package on tourism, transport and borders in the context of the coronavirus crisis, according to an internal document seen by EURACTIV.com.

However, Sweden not only has a higher level of infection, but its testing and traceability capabilities are also lower than those of its neighbours.

Currently, people with mild symptoms cannot be tested unless they are in certain high priority categories, such as health care workers or caregivers, and there is no formal contact tracing application such as the one used in Norway.

This means that even if a higher percentage of Swedish residents are immunised against the virus by the summer, it may be difficult to identify who has developed immunity and who has not, unless contact tracing and testing is significantly strengthened.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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