Coronavirus: Sweden to announce next steps for elderly care homes

Coronavirus: Sweden to announce next steps for elderly care homes
Stockholm's elderly care homes banned visits in March. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
Swedish health authorities are expected to disclose later today whether or not they think a national ban on visits to elderly care homes should be lifted, and if so, what measures should replace it.

UPDATED: Sweden to lift ban on visits to elderly care homes

Sweden has had a national ban on visits to elderly care homes in place since April 1st – and some local authorities introduced a ban even before that date – and it has been extended several times.

On the one hand, the country's 290 municipalities, which are responsible for elderly care, have been largely positive about the ban which they believe helped them curb the spread of coronavirus in care homes.

As The Local has previously reported, the coronavirus swept through many of Sweden's care homes at the early stages of the pandemic. A large number of the country's almost 6,000 fatalities took place in elderly care homes in spring. But since then, Covid-19 deaths in care homes have dropped significantly.

“The consensus (among municipalities) is that the ban has been very good at reducing and getting rid of the spread of infection in elderly care homes,” Greger Bengtsson, elderly care coordinator at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, told the TT newswire this week.

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But the ban is not the only measure that has been introduced, with care homes also having improved for example their hygiene procedures. So the association believes that removing the ban rather than again extending it when it is set to run out on October 1st would be a reasonable move.

That's because concerns have also been raised that the ban is at this point causing more health problems than it resolves. Swedish health authorities are worried that it is leading to increased isolation and loneliness among people, many of whom are very old and vulnerable, who have not been able to receive visitors as normal.

Sweden's Public Health Agency, which has been responsible for most of Sweden's overall coronavirus strategy, and the National Board of Health and Welfare, the main agency that governs healthcare in Sweden, including elderly care, are set to present their opinions later today.

They will announce their views at a press conference with Health Minister Lena Hallengren at 1pm, and have been asked by the government to also outline future measures if they think the ban should be lifted.

Ultimately, it is up to the government to decide whether or not to remove the ban, but it has generally been taking its lead from Sweden's expert authorities throughout the pandemic.

Swedish officials have previously said that the inability to keep the virus, which typically causes most serious illness in elderly people, out of care homes has been one of the major regrets of their response to the pandemic.

When the country's Healthcare Inspectorate inspected more than 1,000 care homes as part of a major probe into the country's coronavirus response, it reported “serious failures” in around one tenth of the homes.

These failures included for example reports of care home residents not getting access to an individual assessment by a doctor, and staff continuing to work after showing symptoms.

But the situation has improved since then, and Sweden's rate of infection has fallen since spring. A total of 5,846 people have died so far after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency's latest data, and 86,505 people have tested positive.

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