Norway will allow travel to and from Finland, Iceland and the Swedish island of Gotland from Monday, but will maintain travel restrictions on mainland Sweden due to its higher level of COVID-19 cases, amid concerns of a second wave of infections.
Denmark, Finland and Norway have lifted some of the controls on leisure travel they imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic, but they have kept most of those imposed on Sweden, the richest and most populous of the Nordic countries.
Leaving most of Sweden out of the arrangements breaks with long-standing close co-operation between the Nordic countries, and goes against the wishes of the European Commission, which wants to lift by Monday the internal borders in the Schengen travel area, which in normal times has no borders.
Norway is not a member of the EU but belongs to Schengen.
“I think we need to be honest and say that in the Nordics this is something of a difficult issue at the moment,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference.
“At the same time, we have a good conversation about how we’re doing it, and the fact that we’re applying objective criteria has been met with understanding,” she said.
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Norway’s arrangements add to the patchwork of bilateral travel arrangements several European countries have made. Only a handful of EU nations, including France, Italy and Belgium, have so far lifted all travel controls.
Norway will assess the public health situation of each region in the Nordics separately and will review its travel advice every two weeks, starting June 15, Solberg said.
Gotland, a Baltic island with close to 60,000 inhabitants, is the only Swedish region Norway will allow Norwegians to travel to without having to undergo a 10-day quarantine on their return.
Swedish travellers from Gotland will be allowed to travel to Norway without undergoing quarantine.
2nd wave worries
It also comes out amid renewed concerns about the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 contaminations, with a record daily increase in India and warnings against complacency in Europe.
The initial wave of transmission has passed its peak in all European countries apart from Poland and Sweden, a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed on Friday.
Sweden reported 1,396 new COVID-19 cases as of Friday, while Norway reported 13.
Finland said on Thursday that it will ease coronavirus travel restrictions and lift internal border controls for passenger traffic with Nordic neighbours Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania effective June 15.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told reporters on Thursday the measure will for the time being exclude close neighbour Sweden, where the coronavirus situation is the worst in the Nordic region.
She said the Finnish government’s decision to leave Sweden out “wasn’t easy, as Sweden is a very important neighbour for us. We hope this won’t affect our relations.”
Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, had reported 7,064 confirmed coronavirus cases with over 325 deaths as of Thursday.