Swedish health agency reverses decision to scale back testing after criticism

Sweden's public health agency has reversed a controversial decision to stop recommending that the fully vaccinated get tested if they have Covid-19 symptoms, with regional health authorities advised to start offering free tests again from next Monday.

Swedish health agency reverses decision to scale back testing after criticism
Karin Tegmark Wisell gives a press conference on taking up her position as the director general of the Public Health Agency of Sweden. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

In a press release, the agency said that the decision partly reflected “growing infection rates in many European countries”, and partly the agency’s prognosis that Sweden will see a “probable increase” in Covid-19 infections in the coming weeks, with Västmanland and Örebro already reporting rising cases numbers.

“Taken altogether, this means that a return to large-scale testing is considered an appropriate measure,” the agency said. “It increases the possibility of detecting even small changes in the epidemiology, and is also increases the possibility of breaking further chains of infection as early as possible.”

The original decision to scale back testing on November 1st has been heavily criticised, with even Jan Albert, a Karolinska Institute professor who has been a strong supporter of the agency, telling the TT newswire he thought the decision a mistake.

Karin Tegmark Wisell, the agency’s new general director, argued in an interview on November 6th that it was no longer “fit-for-purpose to test so broadly”. 

READ ALSO: Why is Sweden cutting testing as Europe enters a new Covid-19 wave?

Sweden currently has one of the lowest test rates in Europe, making it difficult to know if it is at the start of a similar surge in infections as those seen in next-door Denmark, Norway, and Finland.

Under the new testing recommendations, those who have tested positive for Covid-19 within the past six months and recovered, are still not recommended to get tested if they have symptoms, but everyone else over the age of six, regardless of their vaccination status, is recommended to get a test.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”