Coronavirus: Who should self-isolate in Sweden and how do you do it?

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Coronavirus: Who should self-isolate in Sweden and how do you do it?
The goal of self-isolation is to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Photo: Linda Forsell / SvD / SCANPIX

Different countries have issued slightly varying guidance on the rules around self-isolation in order to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Here's the advice for people in Sweden, including how to know if you should self-isolate and exactly what that involves.


What is self-isolation?

First of all, it helps to understand this term which can sound dramatic but simply refers to taking precautions to minimise the spread of infection. Self-isolation means staying inside and avoiding contact with other people. It’s different from a quarantine because it’s up to the individual to ensure they follow it.

If you live with other people, if possible you should stick to your own part of the accommodation, ideally not sharing a bedroom or bathroom with other people and staying one metre away from others in shared living spaces.

If those measures aren’t possible, for example in shared homes with only one bathroom, you should use the bathroom and kitchen after the people you live with, and check with a healthcare professional as to whether all occupants of the home should self-isolate.

You should avoid going to home, school, or any other public place, avoid using public transport, and even avoid having visitors to your home. You can have meals and groceries delivered, either by friends or family or delivery services, but these should be left outside your door.

While self-isolating, it’s important to maintain a high level of hygiene. That means regular and thorough hand-washing, regular washing of items like cutlery, cups, towels and bedding, and wiping down frequently touched surfaces like door handles and eating surfaces quite often. But try not to worry about this excessively; the most important thing is avoiding contact with other people.


Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Who should self-isolate in Sweden?

The guidelines from Swedish authorities on this have been less strict compared to some other European countries. The official advice from the Public Health Agency as of March 30th was that healthy people aged under 70 who do not have any of the symptoms of the virus (including a fever, cough, or sore throat, however mild) can continue their lives as normal.

People in a vulnerable group or aged over 70 have been asked to limit their social contact as much as possible. That doesn't mean staying inside all the time; if you're feeling healthy, it's fine to take walks outside for fresh air and exercise -- just try to avoid contact with other people.

People of all ages and fitness levels should self-isolate if they show any cold- or flu-like symptoms. If you start to feel unwell, even if it's just a slight cough or similarly mild symptoms, you are advised to stay at home and avoid social contact as much as possible, until you have been completely symptom-free for at least two days. 

Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

What about work?

The extent to which your work may be affected by self-isolation depends a lot on what your job is. If you think you need to self-isolate, speak to your manager as soon as possible and keep them updated on your progress while you’re at home.

The Public Health Agency has urged all employees who can work from home to do so, and for employers to make the provisions necessary for that to happen. 

Even for people who aren't suspected of having the virus, or at high risk from it if they were to catch it, working from home can still be a way to reduce your risk of contributing to its spread. It means that you'll be in close contact with fewer people by removing yourself from the workplace and public transport at peak times, which in turn allows people in essential roles (such as healthcare workers) to travel to their jobs and come into contact with fewer people.

Home-working might not be possible in your job though, for example if you’re a teacher, nurse, or electrician. If that’s the case but you have a strong case for self-isolation -- for example, if you’ve recently been in a high-risk area and your work brings you into contact with vulnerable people, or if you yourself belong to a vulnerable group -- speak to your employer about your options, and speak to your doctor. If you’re a member of a trade union you can also ask them for advice and support.

If employers require you to stay at home, you are entitled to your salary, whether or not you can carry out your work from home. And if you are confirmed to be infected by the coronavirus, you’re entitled to a benefit called disease carrier allowance if you’re well enough to work (you also receive this benefit if you are suspected to have the virus), or to standard sick pay if you’re too ill to work.

Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / SCANPIX / TT

What steps can I take to prepare for and cope with self-isolation?

The key things are keeping in contact with your manager if you're an employee, and ensuring your accommodation is well set up for self-isolation if possible, which might mean moving some of your belongings from shared areas to your bedroom or taking other steps to help you follow the measures outlined above.

You might want to make sure your kitchen is well-stocked with enough food for a week or two, but even this isn't essential. Swedish authorities generally recommend keeping enough food for two weeks at home as a way of being prepared for different kinds of emergency, but you can still receive deliveries of food during self-isolation.

Don’t forget your mental health. Going without social contact for an extended time can be tough, especially if you’re also feeling ill or anxious. Think early on about how you’ll mitigate that, perhaps by arranging phone or video calls with friends, spending time on a relaxing hobby, or ensuring you have some treats in the house like coffee, tea and chocolate.



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