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COVID-19

Swedish government inquiry to rule on ‘no-lockdown’ Covid-19 strategy

Sweden's government, health agencies, and regional health authorities are braced for criticism later today, when the Corona Commission tasked with assessing the handling of the pandemic gives its final conclusions.

Mats Melin, chairperson of Sweden's Corona Commission delivering the second part of his report last October.
Mats Melin, chairperson of Sweden's Corona Commission, delivering the second part of his report last October. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The commission’s long-awaited final report is expected to answer the big remaining question around the country’s handling of the pandemic: the choice of strategy, and in particular whether Sweden was right to go its own way and avoid the compulsory “lockdown” measures imposed in most other European countries.

“Whether Sweden’s choice of path was reasonable, or whether it would have been better to introduce other types of measures to limit the spread of the virus, is a question the Commission will return to in its final report,” it wrote in October. “The big question we must ask ourselves is why the start [of pandemic handling] and the path chosen became as it was.” 

The commission is also expected to examine the problems caused by the way Sweden’s system of pandemic handling speads responsibility between the government, Public Health Agency and other agencies, and the regional health authorities. 

The report will also include a section on how Sweden’s choice of strategy and financial measures taken impacted on the country’s economy.

To do this, it will seek to understand what information the key decision-makers in central government and in the Public Health Agency had access to when they set Sweden’s strategy.

In its earlier reports, the commission, and its chair Mats Melin, have used unusually harsh language for a Swedish government inquiry, denouncing the government, regional health authorities, and health agencies as  “tardy”, and attacking aspects of their handling of the pandemic as a “let-down”, and even a “car-crash” or “disaster”.

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The first report, issued in December 2020, concentrated on the impact on elderly care and the second, issued in October last year, focused on the spread of infection, testing, protective equipment, and the response of the healthcare system. 

The months running up to the release have seen strained relations between the commission and Sweden’s government and government offices, with the commission’s investigators complaining in January that they had been denied access to documents they had requested.

In the end, the commission was given an enormous release of documents, leading some sources in Sweden’s government offices to speculate that they would not be able to read or understand them before this week’s publication date.

Ahead of the report’s release, Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist seen as the architect of Sweden’s strategy, said he was looking forward to any constructive criticism. 

“We look forward to anything which helps us get better,” he told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday. “For this type of inquiry to be really good, it needs to be able to point out ways to be better next time. That’s the whole point. To just point fingers is rarely very helpful.” 

He said that he believed the Public Health Agency needed to improve its contacts with some other parts of Sweden’s system.  

“We already had good connections to the healthcare system, but we have now learned how to connect with the elderly care system and other actors, which means we can be faster next time. But we are only one agency out of many.” 

Sweden’s health minister, Lena Hallengren, also said that she hoped the commission took a forward-looking view, and looked at lessons to be learned, rather than imply pointing fingers at the mistakes made over the last two years. 

“I expect the Commission to lift its gaze so that we can benefit from all the conclusions,” she told TT newswire. “We will suffer more crises in the future and they are not going to look like Covid-19 2.0.”

 

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TRAVEL NEWS

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.”

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