WHO: Countries like Sweden should consider face masks

WHO: Countries like Sweden should consider face masks
The World Health Organisation said its message was that "face masks work". Photo: Erik Simander/TT
Sweden is one of few countries affected by a second wave of the coronavirus that has not recommended wearing face masks outside of healthcare settings.

That remains the case despite new stricter measures announced on Monday, when the government banned public events of more than eight people – and said that this limit should set a “norm” even for events not formally covered by the ban.

The World Health Organisation said that evening that adapting strategy to reflect changes in the development of the virus was important.

They also said “masks work” and urged countries in the situation Sweden is currently in to consider recommending them alongside social distancing measures.

The comments were made in reponse to a question from a Svenska Dagbladet reporter, who asked if the significant changes were “a sign of misjudgment” and whether masks would be useful.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said his understanding was that there had been “very high compliance” with Sweden's mostly voluntary measures in spring, and cited other advantages such as a high proportion of single-person households, but noted the country had “not been without its difficulties”.

He said the organisation's advice around mask-wearing was clear: “Masks work. Masks work in particular environments where you can't maintain physical distance, where you're in a crowded setting. We would like people to look at all aspects of how you protect yourself, to look at your risk-score in a sense on a weekly basis.”

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Ryan emphasised the need to assess the risk of different activities, bearing in mind the duration, location and closeness of contact with others. He also said that correct wearing of masks was crucial, including wearing properly fitted masks, covering the nose as well as the mouth.

“There are many situations where wearing a mask is a very good addition to all of the other measures […] So we would advise all countries in situations of widespread community transmission to consider the utilisation of masks, in those specific contexts where transmission risk is high,” he said.

In response to the part of the question about whether the tightening of measures was a sign of misjudgment, he said that adapting policies based on evidence and changes to the situation was a good thing. 

“It's a sign that the system is capable of adapting to new realities that you didn't expect to be the case,” he said.

Reporters from Swedish and international press, including The Local, have repeatedly asked the Public Health Agency about its stance towards mask-wearing.

Responding to a question from Aftonbladet on the subject on Tuesday, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven pointed out there is no recommendation against wearing masks, while Public Health Agency director Johan Carlson said the agency was focusing on preventing crowded situations rather than advising masks in these situations.

Neither responded directly to the journalist's question about whether it was necessary to advise wearing masks in situations where crowding cannot reasonably be avoided, for example on public transport when commuting to work that cannot be done from home.

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Member comments

  1. Who is this Jackson character??….If he faced a serious operation and the surgeon said that to please him NOBODY would be wearing masks??? I wonder if he would then calm down, be less objectionable and not show his ignorance. ????

  2. If a country has a mask mandate not everyone uses them. Particularly in schools, so its still possible to see outbreaks.. Seems common sense to consider a mask – not an attack on human rights. Getting sick oneself or infecting others needlessly seems to take away freedom and rights more in my view, than wearing a mask. The constitution is important of course. But masks are no more political than hand washing. Dentists or surgeons wear masks to prevent infection. On colder days, or when someone smokes a cigarette, breath is more visible – so I understand scientists’ point on air circulation. No one thing is perfect. Masks seem to help. nbd?

  3. Introducing compulsory masks in a situation when countries with strict mask mandates had an epic second wave and had to go into another round of lockdowns would make zero sense. Why would Sweden copy a meassure that didn’t work elsewhere?

  4. Okay, I know, ignorance is bliss. But there are studies pointing to this conclusion: The findings provide justification for the emerging consensus that mask use protects the wearer as well as other people. The work also points to another potentially game-changing idea: “Masking may not only protect you from infection but also from severe illness,” says Monica Gandhi, an infectious-disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco.

    Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02801-8

  5. Where is the evidence that masks has had any impact on the numbers of infections? Look at the countries with the strictest mask rules, are they doing any better?

  6. Chinese people have been living a common life for half a year because of their citizens cooperative altitude towards the prevention measures, and their government’s hard work on controlling the situation. No matter whether you like their system, the fact proves that we Sweden should consider to imitate China’s some policies.

  7. We have the HIGHEST Death rate compared with our nearest neighbors Norway and Denmark, and the highest infection rate and STILL the one man, TEGNELL, rather save his face than think of peoples lives. Why is this country not admitting the fact?

  8. Tegnell has admitted now that Sweden is in a second wave. Obviously, even in the Spring, the Swedish Strategy NEVER WORKED.
    When is this man going to stop being arrogant and think of peoples lives?

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