Covid-19: Sweden tightens restrictions amid surge in cases

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Sweden on Friday did a U-turn on face masks, recommending that they be worn on public transport at peak times, having previously resisted their use in the fight against Covid-19 except in healthcare.

Announcing several new measures, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference that the Public Health Agency was now “recommending face masks and that they should be used on public transport at certain times”.

Johan Carlson, director of the Public Health Agency, at the same time stressed that face masks should not be considered a substitute for maintaining physical distance, and the recommendation was limited to situations were that was impossible.

“We don’t think it will have a deciding effect, but in this specific situation it can have a positive effect,” Carlson said, adding that wearing them in the street did not seem to be significant.

In addition to the face mask recommendation, Lofven said as of December 24, the maximum number of people allowed to share a table at a restaurant would be limited to four and restaurants and bars would not be allowed to sell alcohol after 8 pm.

The country has stood apart from other nations by shunning lockdowns.

It is experiencing a strong second wave of Covid-19 and has already tried to step up preventative measures during the autumn.

Asked about whether stricter measures were necessary Lofven maintained that the strategy was calibrated for the long-haul.

“A serious lockdown would not have an effect in the long run because people would not put up with that,” Lofven told reporters

But as cases have risen, authorities have urged people to limit social interactions to those in their household or a very small circle of friends.

However, some measures are binding, and on November 24 a ban on public gatherings of over eight people came into force, lowering the number from 50.

The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 in the country of some 10.3 million reached 7,993 on Friday, with more than 500 people in the last week and nearly 2,000 since the beginning of November.