Sweden extends ban on visits to elderly care homes

Sweden extends ban on visits to elderly care homes
Swedish Health Minister Lena Hallengren. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT
Sweden will extend a nationwide ban on visits to care homes for elderly people until August 31st, the government said on Monday.

The Swedish government rolled out a ban on visits to elderly care homes on April 1st, and it was initially set to be in effect until the end of June. But on Monday Health Minister Lena Hallengren said it would be extended.

“This is one of many tough measures that have to remain in force,” Hallengren told reporters.

The National Board of Health and Welfare's figures based on causes of death (which are slightly different from the Public Health Agency's figures, which show all deaths where someone tested positive for the virus) showed in early May that 90 percent of all coronavirus deaths in Sweden were people aged over 70.

Of those around half lived in elderly care homes and a quarter received home care.

By the time the nationwide ban on visits was introduced, several care homes across Sweden had already imposed their own bans. Many have also come up with solutions for letting visits go ahead, such as setting up plexi-glass outside so that visitors are able to keep a safe distance from their elderly relatives.

There are other exceptions as well, for example if there are compassionate reasons for why a visit should be allowed to go ahead and there is no significant risk of the coronavirus spreading within the home as a result.

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Hallengren said the government had ordered the National Board of Health and Welfare to look at how visits to elderly care homes can be carried out safely. This could for example include protective equipment for visitors.

Swedish authorities have said that the inability to keep the virus, which typically causes most serious illness in elderly people, out of care homes has been one of the major failures and regrets of their response to the pandemic.

When the country's Healthcare Inspectorate inspected more than 1,000 care homes as part of a major probe into the country's coronavirus response, it reported “serious failures” in around one tenth of the homes.

These failures included for example reports of care home residents not getting access to an individual assessment by a doctor, and staff continuing to work after showing symptoms. The Healthcare Inspectorate is currently carrying out more in-depth investigations into these homes.

The rate of serious infections seems to be slowing down in Sweden, with fewer new deaths and admissions to intensive care than at the peak of the epidemic, but the situation remains serious. As of June 15th, 4,891 people had died in Sweden after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency. 

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