Face masks should be worn on trains and platforms in situations where it is not possible to keep a physical distance of one and a half metre, according to new recommendations from the European Commission, EU Agency for Railways and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
But no such guidelines are yet in place for trains in Sweden.
“We follow what the Public Health Agency says and there is no recommendation as far as we know regarding face masks,” a spokesperson for railway operator SJ told Swedish news agency TT.
Unlike in many other European countries, Sweden has not introduced a requirement for face masks on public transport and does not recommend them among the general public, even after the World Health Organisation recommended that governments advise mask usage in crowded environments.
The Public Health Agency has repeatedly said the science backing masks is not strong enough to balance out the fears, and that it could give people a false sense of security, leading them to leave home while showing symptoms or relax on other proven measures such as hygiene.
(article continues below)
See also on The Local:
Should Sweden make face masks mandatory?
In some cases, for example on public transport
The new guidelines from European authorities also highlight these caveats regarding masks, including that they need to be handled correctly, disposed of correctly and that users need to be aware of the false sense of security and ensure that they keep following other health and safety measures.
“The use of face masks should be considered only as a complementary measure and not replace the preventive measures put in place, mainly respiratory etiquette, physical distancing, meticulous hand hygiene, and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth,” the report states.
“In general, face masks should be replaced when they become wet or soiled, or after being worn for four hours. For long distance travels, passengers should be reminded that they should ensure they have a sufficient supply of masks for the entire duration of their travel.”
Just two percent of the Swedish population have started wearing masks due to the coronavirus, a recent survey showed, although that figure rises to 15 percent in so-called 'vulnerable areas'.
But some public transport operators in Sweden have already taken it upon themselves to hand out face masks to passengers, although no one has introduced it as a strict requirement. These include Skånetrafiken in southern Sweden, and MTRX which operates the Stockholm-Gothenburg route.
“We are aware that the Public Health Agency does not recommend face masks, but we see it as something that on a voluntary basis could increase safe travel,” MTRX CEO Mats Johannesson told TT.
The Public Health Agency has previously said it is monitoring new research on face masks, but state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said Sweden would not be introducing new recommendations at this time.
“Especially not now when the number of cases is rapidly decreasing. This is not a situation when you should add new restrictions,” he told TT.
There have been reports of crowded buses and trains in Sweden, which Public Health Agency representatives criticised as “serious”. Railway operator SJ cut the number of bookable seats from 75 percent to 65 percent last week in response to several passengers complaining of busy trains.
“Our view is that it should be possible to keep a distance, especially on long-distance trains, and SJ has also adapted to that more and more,” added Tegnell