Swedish health chiefs outline future strategy for fighting coronavirus

Swedish health chiefs outline future strategy for fighting coronavirus
Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson and Health Minister Lena Hallengren. Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT
Sweden's coronavirus restrictions are expected to remain in place this autumn, but additional local or regional measures may be needed in case of cluster outbreaks, said Swedish authorities at a press conference on Tuesday.

Sweden's Public Health Agency has previously outlined three possible scenarios – intended as a planning aid rather than an exact prognosis – for how the coronavirus epidemic could develop in Sweden in the next year: one where the infection rate remains at a low level and gradually subsides, one where there's an uneven spread of local or regional outbreaks, and one where the spread of the virus increases steadily across the country.

Sweden's main strategy – staying at home if you have symptoms, good hand hygiene and physical distancing – is expected to remain in place throughout the year, but may need to be scaled up in case of local outbreaks.

Much of the new plan therefore focuses on measures to stem cluster outbreaks.

“Our recommendations form the baseline for the entire country,” Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlsson told a joint press conference with among others Swedish Health Minister Lena Hallengren.

But he said local and regional measures may be necessary on top of the general recommendations in the case of new cluster outbreaks, so the Public Health Agency is working with regional actors to step up preparedness.

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Some of the future measures could include additional restrictions for adults in the same household as someone with confirmed coronavirus infection. The Public Health Agenyc is investigating the possibility of ordering the healthy household member to for example self-quarantine in accordance with the law on infectious diseases.

Face masks may also play a part in fighting local or regional outbreaks, states the Public Health Agency's report.

Unlike many other countries, Sweden has not yet introduced face masks as a general measure for fighting the coronavirus. The report suggests that public transport could be an environment where face masks may be beneficial in case of local outbreaks, but adds that any such measures should be discussed with regional actors.

The report also states that the Public Health Agency is currently analysing its recommendations for risk groups, who are urged to avoid close contact with other people as much as possible. It adds that face masks could be a potential measure to enable lifting certain recommendations for risk groups, “to decrease their isolation”.

“In some situations, such as a visit to a hairdresser, the activity itself means that close contact cannot be avoided. In these cases face masks used by [the hairdresser] could decrease the risk of pre- and asymptomatic transmission,” adds the report.

Other measures could be stricter regional limits on public events. Sweden currently bans public events with more than 50 people, but is looking to raise the cap on the audience for certain kinds of events.

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