Sweden urges employees to keep working from home throughout autumn

Sweden urges employees to keep working from home throughout autumn
Health Minister Lena Hallengren (L) and state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. Photo: Naina Helén Jåma/TT
Sweden's health minister and public health agency have announced updated guidance for the autumn, including a continued recommendation to work from home.

Everyone in Sweden who is able to work from home should continue to do so throughout the autumn, a continuation of a guideline which has been in place since mid-March. 

Part of the reasoning for continuing to recommend home-working, according to the country's Public Health Agency, is that this will help reduce congestion on public transport especially for those like service workers and medical staff who cannot work from home.

No new guidelines will be introduced for public transport, but state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell noted that with university and upper secondary students returning to studies and workers returning from holiday, transport will be busier in the autumn. He asked everyone to continue following the current recommendation to use alternative modes of transport than public transport and to avoid rush hour when possible.

The agency also noted that the extension of advice to work from home meant workplaces should take extra measures to ensure that laws around ensuring a safe work environment are followed for home-workers.

Asked when employees could expect to return to work, Tegnell said it was hard to say.

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He said that this would likely be a gradual process rather than a sudden change or waiting for a vaccine, but added, “it's an interesting question as to whether we will ever go back to work in exactly the same way as before”.

The announcements came at a joint press conference with Health Minister Lena Hallengren, in which they also summarised how the government and state agencies are working on preparations for the autumn.

Hallengren stressed how much had changed in the six months since Sweden had its first confirmed case of the virus, from the way the healthcare system works to everyday habits.

“Now we see that many of the curves in Sweden are going in the right direction. The number of cases is going down, the number of deaths is falling and the number of serious cases is fewer. This is a positive development that's a result of so many in Sweden adjusting their lives every day, for several months,” she said. 

“I've said it before, I'll say it again, we are still in a pandemic. We see how new outbreaks are flaring up in the world and Europe. We need to do everything to maintain the positive development we currently have in Sweden,” she added.

Health Minister Lena Hallengren said that several government agencies were “working intensively” with preparations based on three possible scenarios set out by the Public Health Agency of how the spread of infection is likely to develop. 

Regional councils have been asked by the government to inform residents on the importance of following national recommendations, including on public transport, although Hallengren said no new legislation was planned.

Hallengren said the government had ordered regions to communicate more about the continued following of recommendations. This includes sharing good examples for municipalities and others to reduce spread of infection. And she urged everyone in Sweden to continue making “smart everyday decisions”, saying this would be “decisive” in how the Swedish epidemic develops.

The announcements follow reports of overcrowding on beaches, at restaurants and on public transport and particularly city buses and national train lines. 

“The most likely outlook is that we will probably have a continued spread of infection in autumn, likely at a low level but there remains quite a large risk that it could flare up again, especially at places which have had a low spread of infection earlier,” Tegnell said. 

He emphasised that the Swedish strategy has been focused on having a sustainable strategy with recommendations people can follow long-term, so many of these will remain in place including the recommendation to work from home.

Speaking to the TT newswire, Tegnell said that public transport was likely a small but important source of infection spread, since it allows the virus to spread between different groups in society, as opposed to within households or groups of colleagues or close friends.

“Public transport is an important source of infection spread. It's not such a big one, but it's probably there that [the virus] spreads between different groups […] it would be very difficult to check,” he explained.  

As for why the Public Health Agency wasn't recommending face masks given this hypothesis, Tegnell said this wasn't an appropriate measure “at the moment” because maintaining social distance was more important.


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