When does Sweden plan to change its face mask recommendations?

At the moment, the situations in which you are recommended to wear a face mask vary depending on where you are in Sweden.

When does Sweden plan to change its face mask recommendations?
Most rush hour travellers wearing face masks in Malmö. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

In some regions, face masks are advised during all times on public transport, as well as in indoor environments where you cannot guarantee being able to keep a distance (for example inside shops, pharmacies and at hairdressers) and during any visits to healthcare (for example at the dentist, doctor, or hospital).

But nationwide, the Public Health Agency recommends only that face masks be worn on public transport during rush hour on weekdays (defined as 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm). It only applies specifically to forms of public transport where no assigned seat is given, for example on buses and trams.

Long-distance buses and trains are subject to limits on how many seats they can sell, and some transport companies have introduced their own rules requiring face masks onboard. Of course, you may still choose to wear a mask in other situations even if your region has no special recommendations.

In the re-opening plan announced by the government on May 27th, there was no mention of any move to tighten the face mask guidelines on a national level.

But in the third step of the five-stage plan, the national recommendation to wear masks during rush hour on public transport is currently expected to be removed. This will depend on the state of the pandemic in Sweden at the time, but is currently expected to happen in mid-July.

Be aware that regional recommendations may still apply after this point.  

The Local has previously 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,” Tegnell told us in late January.

The spread of infection and the burden on the healthcare system are still high in Sweden, and restrictions to curb the spread are still in place. These include for example a requirement to limit your social contacts as much as possible and work from home if you can.

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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.