How coronavirus advice for close contacts varies depending on where in Sweden you live

How coronavirus advice for close contacts varies depending on where in Sweden you live
The Public Health Agency currently recommends that even symptom-free people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive should work from home. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Have you been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus patient, but don't have symptoms? The advice on what to do next varies depending on where in Sweden you live.

The Local has previously reported that the Public Health Agency's advice on how to act if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus appeared to quietly change in early September.

It currently says that you should be extra attentive to your own symptoms, but even if you don't have any apparent symptoms, you should still avoid close contacts with other people for a full 14 days after you came into contact with the confirmed coronavirus patient, and work from home if possible.

For regional healthcare providers, the agency's guidance regarding contact tracing has since at least late July been to advise close contacts of people who have tested positive to avoid other contacts for two weeks.

But in the end it is up to each of Sweden's 21 administrative regions, which are responsible for healthcare, to decide what to do, and a new survey by Sweden's public radio news broadcast Ekot shows that the instructions to people who have been exposed to the virus vary across the country.

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In the Skåne, Stockholm and Jönköping regions, people without symptoms are urged to avoid leisure activities or shops, where they may come into contact with other people. But the Gävleborg region's information leaflet to people who may have been infected states nothing about avoiding social contacts, and the Västerbotten region only advises contacts to be attentive to symptoms, reports Ekot.

Gävleborg's infectious disease doctor Lars Vesslén told Ekot that following Sweden's general guidelines on keeping a distance to other people (which applies to everyone) is usually good enough even in this situation.

“We don't repeat this general instruction to them,” he said.

Lisa Labbé Sandelin, infectious disease doctor in the Kalmar region, said it would be good to create a nationwide leaflet so that the guidance from healthcare services would be the same across Sweden. “I think that is being worked on in order to avoid these differences,” she told Ekot.

It is not only regional guidelines that appear to be inconsistent.

The Public Health Agency currently advises members of the public to avoid contact with others for 14 days if they have been in contact with a coronavirus patient. But as The Local reported last week, this recommendation is stricter than earlier Public Health Agency guidelines for the general public, and was published on the agency's website on the morning of Friday, September 4th. You can read the advice in full (in Swedish) here.

Up until the afternoon of September 1st, the advice on the same page said that symptom-free family members should “do as normal and go to preschool, school or work, but at the same time be especially attentive to other symptoms”. There was also no mention at the time of avoiding close contacts during the incubation period, and no specific advice for people who had been exposed to Covid-19 outside their household.

The Public Health Agency's guidelines for contact tracing, however, published on July 21st and mainly aimed at regional healthcare providers rather than the public, did include the guideline that anyone who had been exposed to Covid-19 should avoid close contacts for 14 days and work from home if possible. 

The Local has asked the Public Health Agency for clarification on when the guidance for the public on avoiding close contacts changed, but did not immediately receive a response at the time of publication last week.

We have also asked for clarification of whether the recommendation to work from home is stricter for people who have been in contact with a Covid-19 patient. While the entire population is advised to work from home if possible, in some workplaces employees are required to come into work on certain days or for certain meetings.

Also on Friday, the 1177 healthcare website and Krisinformation updated their own websites to reflect the new advice. As of Friday afternoon, 1177 said that people with family members who had tested positive should avoid close contacts for 14 days, but had no recommendation for people who had met another close contact who tested positive.

A spokesperson for 1177 told The Local on Friday: “We are currently in a phase where the recommendations are constantly being reviewed. This means that material on our website right now is in a process of various updates. Today the recommendations were updated.”


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