STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Excluding Sweden from moves to open borders across the Nordic region as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic would be a political decision and not justifiable on health grounds, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Tuesday.
With many European countries looking to ease travel restrictions ahead of the summer, there are concerns elsewhere in the Nordic region that allowing Swedish tourists in could increase the risk of new infections.
More than 4,000 Swedes have died from COVID-19, nearly four times the combined total of the other Nordic countries. Still, Linde said the disease had mostly hit the capital with border areas such as Skane, in the far south, much less affected.
COVID-19 in the Nordics: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/qmypmonrepr/eikon.png
(For an interactive graphic on Nordic novel coronavirus cases, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3c4GMlY in an external browser)
Sweden media have raised concerns that Swedes could be excluded as curbs on travel are relaxed, both in the Nordic region and elsewhere in Europe.
News that Cyprus will not permit direct flights from Sweden when it opens up on June 9, but will allow in flights from Norway, Denmark and Finland, was widely reported with public service broadcaster SVT running the headline "Swedes barred when Cyprus opens up".
Sweden, which has not closed its borders to neighbours, opted against the hard lockdowns imposed by other Nordic countries and has kept most schools, bars and restaurants open.
Linde said the European Union had emphasised that countries should not discriminate when opening borders.
"It is a very complicated issue, and I think that all politicians in every country should also look at the long term effect before they take very politically motivated decisions," she said.
The Danish government is in talks with neighbouring countries about reopening borders and is scheduled to announce a plan this week.
"I certainly don't think that we should wait opening the border with Germany until we can justify opening the border with Sweden," Jakob Elleman-Jensen, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said this month.
"If it isn't safe from a health perspective to open the border with Sweden, Swedes should stay at home while we let in the Germans."
Norway is considering whether to lift restrictions on travellers from the Nordic region.
Border controls in Finland are in place until June 14. Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said this month travel restrictions could be lifted for some of its neighbours, but called Sweden's epidemic situation "worrying".
The government has told Swedes not to travel abroad until at least July 15 unless absolutely necessary.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Jacob Groholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; Graphic by Anne Kauranen, Munsif Vengattil and Supantha Mukherjee; editing by Niklas Pollard and Ed Osmond)