What are Sweden’s new guidelines for visits to care homes?

What are Sweden's new guidelines for visits to care homes?
Visits should be carried out in safe circumstances, such as using plexiglass and face masks. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT
There is still a nationwide ban on visits to care homes for the elderly in Sweden, but authorities have opened up for exceptions to be made in some cases. So when can you visit elderly relatives?

New guidelines issues by the National Board of Health and Welfare outline circumstances in which exceptions can be made, and the key factor is that staff must be confident they are keeping residents and staff safe. 

The ban on visits to care homes is currently in place until August 31st, after it was first introduced in early April.

But the agency has said that some visits can take place, outdoors if possible, but even indoors if there is a strong reason (such as the resident or visitor being at the end of their life) or if the visitor has coronavirus antibodies.

“We recommend in the first instance that visits take place outdoors, and then you do not need to have as strict reasons for the visit. It can be to reduce the negative effects of loneliness, for example,” said the National Board of Health and Welfare's Katrin Westlund on Tuesday.

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In addition, asymptomatic people who have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies may be allowed to enter care homes for indoor visits, something which may be especially important as the weather turns cooler.

In this case, the test must be no more than six months old and have been carried out according to the Public Health Agency's guidelines — it's the responsibility of the care home to ensure it's a reliable test result.

The person visiting must still be completely free of any cold or flu symptoms, and visits should only be allowed if the care home assesses that it should go ahead based on both the resident's need for an in-person visit and the facility's ability to carry it out safely.

Some Swedish care homes have been offering relatives the chance to visit using extra safety measures for some months already, including installing plexiglass walls outside, and having designated staff to supervise visits.

Ultimately, the decision on who can visit homes and in what circumstances is made by those responsible for the home, either a municipality or a private care company, or the manager of the individual residence. It is up to them to choose when and in what circumstances to grant an exception to the national ban. 

And some Swedish municipalities have said they don't plan to allow people with antibodies exceptions from the rules just yet. Both the Östergötland and Gotland regions told SVT Nyheter they would not allow indoor visits, due to the lack of reliable antibody testing in these areas.

Antibody tests are available in some of Sweden's regions, and the Public Health Agency said in late June that people with a reliable positive test result may meet people in risk groups — but should still follow other guidelines, including keeping distance in public places and maintaining good hand hygiene. 

An antibody test shows that someone has previously had the infection, and developed a specific protein to fight it off. It's still unclear what level of immunity against re-infection this provides, and how long for, but the Public Health Agency has said it likely provides some degree of protection for at least six months.


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