Sweden to End Restrictions as Health Agency Declares COVID-19 “No Longer a Danger to Society”

Sweden is to lift almost all its Covid restrictions, the Government has announced.

The country, famed for refusing to impose a lockdown, ban gatherings or close schools and businesses in spring 2020, has become one of the stricter countries for Covid restrictions in recent months. But now the Government has announced that almost all its current restrictions will be removed on Wednesday, February 9th.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said:

The pandemic is not over, but is entering a completely new phase. We are nearing the point for Sweden to open up again…

There are multiple international studies of a milder illness, and the data we have from Sweden paints the same picture. The rate of vaccination in Sweden has been high in recent weeks, this means we can open up society, at least for all who have been vaccinated.

The comment “at least for all who have been vaccinated” is ominous, but I am told by contacts in the country that there are “no checks anywhere, so nobody knows if you’re actually vaccinated or not in public settings”.

The announcement comes as the Public Health Agency said COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an illness presenting a danger to society. The agency has sent a request to the Government to reclassify the illness, and Health Minister Lena Hallengren said this could be approved by the end of March.

Ministers do not appear to be fully signed up to this idea yet, however, as Hallengren said that “in order to prevent a new wave, the return to work and school [university] should occur successively”. If the disease is no longer a danger to society, why worry about a new wave?

Here is a list of the restrictions currently in force that will be removed next week – the most depressing aspect of which is how numerous and petty they are. Poor Sweden, how far you have fallen from being our sceptical hero! Notably absent from the press conference was State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who had doggedly stuck to pre-Covid evidence-based protocols rather than join in the panic. Despite what the Prime Minister said, the list appears to include the lifting of most of the vaccine passport requirements. The restrictions to be lifted are:

  • Indoor events of 20-50 people must be seated, with max eight per group and one metre between groups.
  • Vaccination pass needed for indoor events with more than 50 attendees.
  • Trade shows and markets indoors must require a vaccine pass if they have more than 50 guests, and number of guests is capped at 500, with 10 square metres per person.
  • Restaurants must close at 11pm, with alcohol serving ending at 10:30pm.
  • Groups at restaurants may consist of a maximum of eight people, with a minimum of one metre between groups.
  • Restaurants with concerts or other entertainment may only have seated guests.
  • Maximum of 20 people at private parties in hired venues.
  • Shops must have a maximum number of guests permitted, calculated on area with 10 square metres per person – this also applies to gyms, museums, art galleries, theme parks and swimming pools.
  • Long-distance public transport: all travellers must have a seat, if possible.

The Local notes that some “special recommendations for those who have not yet been vaccinated will remain”, though what these are and how binding they are is unclear.

The move follows Denmark lifting its restriction and declaring COVID-19 no longer a danger to society as of this week, and Finland announcing that it will do similar during February. Israel has also announced the end of its Green Pass vaccine passport in most contexts (though, oddly, not for parties and weddings). To what extent countries other than Denmark are removing their emergency Covid laws is not yet clear, but if the disease is downgraded to no longer being a threat to society it’s hard to see how any exceptional measures would survive legal challenge.

Perhaps most surprising is that all four countries are easing or ending restrictions despite being in the middle of a wave of Covid deaths – in Israel and Finland’s case, hitting new daily records this week. That these records have occurred despite the high vaccination and booster rates in the countries warrants closer investigation. Excess deaths data is not yet available to show the extent to which the Covid deaths are in addition to rather than part of ordinary mortality. Even so, it makes the lifting of restrictions the more notable, and gives hope that panic may be subsiding.

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