What Sweden’s new coronavirus cash boost means for healthcare services

Sweden's centre-left government and its parliamentary allies have pledged to hand out billions of kronor to healthcare and elderly care, in a series of new investments to boost a welfare sector battered by the corona pandemic.

What Sweden's new coronavirus cash boost means for healthcare services
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf at a joint press conference on Monday. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

“It is, if you pardon me, a heck of an investment in welfare,” said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven as he presented the new proposal at a joint press conference with Centre Party leader Annie Lööf on Monday morning.

Work to hammer out Sweden's next budget is under way between the Social Democrat-Green coalition government and the Centre and Liberals, and it is set to be a more important task than ever as the country attempts to kick-start its economy and jobs in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The full budget is scheduled to be presented to parliament later this month, but news about various proposals usually trickles out in dribs and drabs in the weeks leading up to the big day, and today was one such day.

The government's budget proposal will earmark a permanent annual investment of four billion kronor (approximately $458 million) to boosting elderly care, as well as an additional 1.7 billion kronor which will be added on top of a previously advertised package designed to drive new and skilled staff to elderly care. In total, that means that Sweden's elderly care sector will altogether receive 7.4 billion kronor in 2021.

Four billion kronor per year will also be injected into Sweden's healthcare sector over the next two years, to help plug the gap of a 'healthcare deficit' as a result of planned surgeries being postponed during the coronavirus crisis. The money can also be used for coronavirus-related medical care.

The four parties involved in the budget negotiations – set out in the so-called January Agreement which enabled the Social Democrats and Greens to take office in 2019 – also propose increasing the funding for Sweden's 290 municipalities and 21 regions in general. That includes a cash boost of 10 billion kronor next year and five billion in 2022, of which 70 percent will be added to the coffers of municipalities and 30 percent to regions.

In total, the proposal presented on Monday includes investments in the welfare state to the tune of 19.7 billion kronor to be handed to Sweden's local and regional authorities in 2021, said Lööf.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”