Sweden, which never introduced lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus, now has no intention of advocating the use of face masks, which are in use in more than 50 countries trying to reduce the cases of COVID-19.
Even the United Nations’ agency, the World Health Organization, has changed its policy on face masks and now advocates their use for the general public where there is a risk of widespread community transmission and physical distancing is difficult.
“It is very dangerous to believe face masks would change the game when it comes to COVID-19,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, told the Financial Times.
Tegnell noted that countries with widespread mask compliance, such as Belgium and Spain, were still seeing rising numbers of virus rates.
“Face masks can be a complement to other things when other things are safely in place,” he said. “But to start with having face masks and then think you can crowd your buses or your shopping malls — that’s definitely a mistake.”
Sweden has tackled the coronavirus pandemic by asking its population to follow three basic rules: maintain social distancing, follow good hand hygiene, and avoid spending time around other people when you are sick or showing any symptoms. Sweden has also advised work from home if possible and to avoid non-essential visits to elderly people or hospitals. Its schools returned at the start of the new year this week and headmasters and headmistresses have been given more powers to use if necessary, such as remote learning.
“In this way, we have pushed the spread of infection down to a rate in line with or even below the rate in many other European countries. This doesn’t mean we can sit back, but we naturally have big risks in our country too, both for local outbreaks and more continued spread of infection,” said Sweden’s Public Health Agency Director General Johan Carlson.
On 19 August, 5,802 people have been confirmed as having died after testing positive for the coronavirus in Sweden. There have been 85,411 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
Jonas Ludvigsson, professor of clinical epidemiology at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said Anders Tegnell’s Public Health Agency played a “very strong role” and elected officials accepted their recommendations. “In Denmark and Norway, politicians have a stronger role. Politicians in this era of crisis want to look strong and don’t always take decisions that are evidence-based,” he added.
Tegnell told Daily Mail that, like all global health experts, he was ‘shooting in the dark’ when the coronavirus erupted, and he admitted that he expected to see spikes in the virus, especially when people return indoors as it gets colder in the northern hemisphere autumn.
He said Sweden sought from the start a sustainable approach that could retain public support and keep the country’s economy functioning as much as possible. Sweden’s economy fared better than the rest of Europe and the UK in the second quarter.
In other Nordic countries the use of face masks is limited. In Norway, they are recommended only rush-hour public transport; in Denmark, they will from Saturday be compulsory on public transport only.
Soren Riis Paludan, a viral infections expert from Aarhus University, Denmark, said research suggested that at Denmark’s current infection rate, 100,000 people would have to wear face masks properly for a week to avoid one infection.
“If there’s very little virus in the community, the effect is limited. But if you’re in the middle of a hotspot, then everything says that they can have an effect. In Denmark, we have compromised and said face masks may be another tool in the toolbox,” said Prof Paludan.
More than 50 countries have made it mandatory for people to cover their faces when they leave home.
“Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water,” the World Health Organization said.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 16, 2020
The Robert Koch Institute said despite there being no evidence for self-protection, covering the mouth and nose with a face mask can trap infectious droplets that are expelled when the wearer is speaking, coughing or sneezing. That is, face masks are designed to protect people from the wearer.
Vietnam became one of the first countries to make face masks compulsory for people to wear in public on 16 March. On 18 March, the Czech Republic became the first European country to make wearing masks mandatory in supermarkets, pharmacies, and public transport.
Slovakia followed on March 25, and President Zuzana Caputova always wears a mask in the colour of her dress. On 29 March, Bosnia and Herzegovina made it mandatory for its citizens to wear a face mask or a cloth covering their mouth and nose while walking in the streets or outside their homes.
On 4 April, Colombia made wearing face masks compulsory on the public transport system and public areas such as stores, outdoor marketplaces and banks. The United Arab Emirates announced on the same day that face masks should be worn at all times when outside the home.
Austria and Cuba made face masks mandatory in public spaces on 6 April, and a day later Ecuador announced the use of face masks obligatory in public spaces.
In North Africa, Morocco made wearing face masks mandatory on 7 April and, on the same day, Turkey ordered all of its citizens to wear masks when shopping or visiting crowded public places.
On 8 April, El Salvador made face masks mandatory in public and Chile’s health ministry announced that face masks must be worn on the public transport system.
On 9 April, Cameroon imposed masks for people leaving their homes and this policy was adopted by Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.
On 12 April, Israel made it mandatory for its citizens to wear face masks when in the public domain. Two days later Argentina made face masks obligatory for everyone using public transport and when out in public arena.
On 16 April, Poland made covering the face with either a mask or homemade piece of fabric such as a scarf mandatory when in green areas such as parks and beaches as well as public places such as roads, squares, religious facilities, commercial facilities and marketplaces.
On 20 April, Luxembourg made the use of face masks mandatory in public places where it is not possible to keep enough distance between one person and the other, such as public transport and supermarkets. On 21 April, Jamaica made it mandatory for citizens to wear a face mask in public spaces.
On 22 April, Germany made the wearing of face masks compulsory when on public transport and while shopping in all of its 16 states. On the same day, Bahrain made wearing face masks in public areas compulsory and also for shop workers.
On 26 April, Qatar made the use of face masks mandatory for government and private sector employees and clients, shoppers at food and catering stores and workers in the contracting sector.
On 17 May, Qatar made wearing masks in public mandatory.
On 3 May, Honduras made face masks mandatory for people going outside their homes. On 5 May, Uganda said every person who leaves their home must wear a cloth face mask to stop the spread of COVID-19. On 10 May, France made the use of face masks in public mandatory.
In the UK, face masks are mandatory on public transport, in all indoor settings (such as shops, supermarkets, airports, railway stations, places of worship) and people are expected to wear them when going outside their home.
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Spain made it compulsory on May 20 for everyone older than six to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoor spaces when it is impossible to keep more than two metres apart. South Korea made it mandatory for people to wear masks when using public transportation and taxis nationwide on may 22. On the same day, Lebanon announced people had to wear a mask in public.
On 30 May, Pakistan made it compulsory for people to wear a face mask in crowded public spaces including mosques, bazaars, shopping malls and public transport.
On 16 August, Italy’s government said that from 6pm to 6am, the wearing of masks would be mandatory in public areas where groups could form.
In Australia, its second largest city Melbourne has had stage four restrictions in effect since Sunday 2 August to try and suppress the coronavirus and the restrictions will last six weeks. In Melbourne you are only allowed to leave your house for four reasons: shopping for food and essential items, care and caregiving, daily exercise and work. Face masks in public are also mandatory in Victoria. People in neighbouring New South Wales, including the most populous city of Sydney, are advised to wear a face mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible. The rest of Australia has no mask policy.