STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden will ease restrictions on domestic travel from June 13, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Thursday, despite signs that novel coronavirus infections are increasing in parts of the country.
Sweden has not imposed a social lockdown, instead relying primarily on voluntary measures focused on social distancing and hygiene to check the spread of the virus.
It has kept most schools, restaurants and businesses open and instructed people not to make unnecessary journeys.
With the number of deaths and people treated at intensive care falling, Lofven said that Swedes who were symptom-free could now plan visits to their summer cottages or relatives in other parts of the country.
“This decision does not mean that the danger is over,” Lofven told a news conference. “It doesn’t mean that life is back to normal again, and other restrictions remain in place.
“If the curve showing the seriously ill turns up again, there will be new restrictions.”
The easing of travel restrictions, however, comes after the Public Health Agency reported a rise in cases that could not wholly explained by increased testing.
“Unfortunately, in Sweden, we can see an increase in cases again,” Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference, urging people not to ease up on social distancing.
Tegnell said the increases in new cases was seen primarily in Western Sweden and among younger people.
“Cases among the really old have declined quite rapidly. It shows the measures taken have had an effect,” he said. “There’s reason to believe the decline in deaths will continue.”
Lofven said travel restrictions were not the most effective way of preventing the spread of the disease.
He said social distancing rules would apply on trains and other forms of public transport and people should continue to follow all other restrictions wherever they were.
“When you get to your destination you have to do exactly what you would do at home, social distancing rules still apply,” he said. “We cannot have crowded pubs and we cannot have crowds anywhere else, either.”
Sweden has 41,883 confirmed COVD-19 cases in total.
Sweden registered 20 new deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 4,562, much higher than in neighbouring Nordic countries but also much lower than the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Spain.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie)