EXPLAINED: What are Sweden’s recommendations for face masks on public transport?

Sweden's new recommendations for face masks on public transport come into force on Thursday. We explain what they are and how they are being applied in different regions and cities.

EXPLAINED: What are Sweden's recommendations for face masks on public transport?
Passengers pictured wearing masks on a train in Lund in early December. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

What are Sweden's new recommendations for face masks? 

According to recommendations published on December 30th by the Public Health Agency, people born before 2004 (16 and above) should wear face masks on public transport between 7-9am and 4-6pm on weekdays, if it is not possible to ensure good social distance by booking a separate seat. 

This means that those travelling on trains with booked seats are not subject to the recommendation to wear masks, even during the rush hour, but obviously can if they chose to do so.

Where do the recommendations apply? 

The recommendation applies everywhere in Sweden, even though public transport is mainly likely to be crowded in the bigger cities. 

Do I need to buy my own face mask if I want to travel on public transport during the rush hours? 

The Public Health Agency says that it is the individual's responsibility to bring their own face mask, ideally one marked with the European Union's CE marking, which signifies that they have been assessed to meet high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements. 

Why are face masks important?

Face masks can offer some protection to both the wearer and those around them against the transmission of the coronavirus, several scientific studies show. They should not be used as a replacement to other measures, such as working from home if you can, keeping a distance from others, and avoiding public transport and other busy places unless necessary, but they can be used in situations as an additional level of protection.

The coronavirus spreads through both droplet transmission (large particles of the virus, spread for example from sneezing or speaking loudly) and airborne transmission (smaller particles which can float and so remain in the air for some time and may transmit over distances of more than a metre). It's not clear exactly what role each form of transmission plays, with governments and public health authorities in different countries emphasising the role of airborne transmission to different extents. 

The Swedish Public Health Agency has said that both droplet and airborne transmission occur with the coronavirus, but that they believe droplet transmission is more common.

Can I make my own face mask? 

According to Malin Bengnér, an infectious diseases doctor in Jonköping, you should not try to make a face mask yourself, because it might have no effect if it is not up to standard. 

Will bus, train and metro operators supply face masks? 

The Public Health Agency is recommending the companies which operate public transport to supply face masks for travellers who have not been able to buy or otherwise obtain one themselves. 

But the Swedish Public Transport Association, which represents public transport operators, has said in a statement that it would be too difficult for its members to meet this recommendation and none of the big regional public transport operators plan to hand out face masks tomorrow.  

It is possible, however, to obtain free face masks at customer centres in Stockholm, Malmö, Gothenburg and some other big cities.

In Stockholm, SL, the regional traffic operator, is giving out free face masks to those with valid tickets at its customer centres on Stockholm's Sergels Torg square and at Stockholm Central Station. 

In Skånetrafiken's customer centres in Malmö, Lund, Helsingborg and Kristianstad, those with a valid ticket will also be able to obtain a free face mask. 

The traffic operator Västtrafik plans to give out free face masks at its customer centres in Gothenburg, Borås, Partille, Skövde, Trollhattan and Uddevalla. 

How should I wear the face mask? 

You should ideally wash your hands before putting it on. You should make sure it's the right way around — normally there is a metal bar which indicates where your nose should be. The inside of the mask is usually white and the outside blue. When wearing the mask, avoid touching the front of the mask. To remove the mask, unhook the elastic from your ears without touching the front of the mask, then dispose of it in a bin. Wash your hands afterwards.  

Here is a page in English on how to use a face mask by the World Health Organisation.

And here's a WHO video on how to wear a standard medical face mask. 

What happens if I refuse to wear a mask, or if I've forgotten to buy one? 

The recommendation is only a recommendation and neither bus drivers or ticket inspectors on trains will ask those refusing, unable or simply not bothering, to wear a face mask not to travel.

It's possible that fellow travellers will object, however, and it is important to bear in mind that the recommendation is in place to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Please let us know your experiences of travelling on public transport in Sweden. Email [email protected]

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.