Q&A: Sweden's face mask recommendations on public transport

The Local
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Q&A: Sweden's face mask recommendations on public transport

After the head of Sweden's Public Health Agency admitted to forgetting to follow face mask recommendations, The Local asked the agency whether it would consider making the recommendations clearer.


According to the Public Health Agency's guidelines, people born before 2004 should wear face masks on public transport between 7-9am and 4-6pm on weekdays, unless it is possible to book a designated seat.

The agency's director on Thursday admitted to forgetting to wear his mask while travelling on an empty bus during rush hour, and The Local asked state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell if the agency had considered if a recommendation applying at all times, or based on crowding rather than time, would be clearer and more effective.

"We have discussed that quite a lot, and seen pros and cons of different approaches. We ended up saying that this is the most efficient approach we can think of, that we actually look at certain hours during the day, where we know from statistics that the risk of crowding is the biggest. We still think that's the best way of doing it," said Tegnell.


"Having it all the time would be overkill because a lot of buses in Sweden, especially outside the main cities, are very seldom crowded so that would take far too many resources and also tire people. We realise of course that taking these hours sometimes you might enter an empty bus and still have to wear a face mask, just as you might enter a bus at 12 noon and it might be reasonably crowded. But then our recommendation is really not to enter that bus."

In response to a question from public radio broadcaster Sveriges Radio about Carlson's actions, Tegnell explained that the bus had been empty and that his boss usually followed the recommendations. "Everyone is human, and sometimes you can forget things," he commented.

The video below, taken in Stockholm outside rush hour, shows crowding on a tunnelbana (subway) platform and limited uptake of mask-wearing.

The Local asked if the time-restricted recommendation, combined with the fact Sweden was later than most countries in its recommendation for face masks, could give mixed signals about how the Public Health Agency views the effectiveness of masks.

"No, I think we have been very clear in our view about the pros and cons of masks," he responded.


Confusion over the agency's stance has also been noted in the schools sector.

Halmstad municipality in south-western Sweden backtracked following a wave of criticism after it banned face masks in its schools and told a teacher to remove theirs, but it said there was a "lack of clarity" in official recommendations.

The region's infection control department told the TT newswire at the time: "The Public Health Agency does not have a recommendation about wearing face masks in school, and (we) have no other opinion on this. Neither the Public Health Agency nor Infection Control forbids the use of face masks."

On its website, the agency says face masks, if used, should be "quality-assured, ie CE-marked, disposable face masks that meet the requirements of the standard SS-EN14683: 2019", and be worn correctly (here's its guide).

When The Local asked the agency's Karin Tegmark-Wisell about mask recommendations last week, she said: "The recommendations that we have for the public in the crowded hours for public transportation, it has been only medical masks and not cloth masks."


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