Swedish health agency gives green light to seated events of up to 500 people

The Public Health Agency has suggested that the limit for attendees at public events be raised to 500 – but that one metre's distance should be kept between guests.

Swedish health agency gives green light to seated events of up to 500 people
A socially distanced crowd of fewer than 50 spectators at a football match in Gothenburg earlier this month. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

The decision comes on Thursday, after the government asked the agency to look into possible ways of easing the restrictions currently in place on public events.

The maximum number of people allowed at a public event was limited to 500 in early March, before being further reduced to 50 people later that month. It applies to events such as concerts, conferences, and sports matches, but not to private events such as parties or weddings, or in places like schools, workplaces or shopping centres.

There have been complaints from the culture, sports and other affected industries which argue they would be able to put on larger events in a safe way, and last week Interior Minister Mikael Damberg described the 50-person cut-off as a “blunt tool”.

He announced then that the government was looking into possible changes to the measures for seated events only, and said that the Public Health Agency had been asked to update its guidance.

The agency has also suggested further measures which should be adopted for larger public events, including that all participants should keep a distance of at least one metre from each other. This would apply to both indoor and outdoor events.

It is the government and not the Public Health Agency that is responsible for legislation on public events, so the agency's recommendation isn't binding. However, throughout the pandemic the government has chosen to rely heavily on the agency's guidance, so it is likely that they will adopt the suggested limit.

The government's proposal, if adopted, is set to come into force on October 1st.

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”