Decisions and guidelines in the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs’ policy areas to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus

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The Government continues to maintain a close dialogue with relevant expert government agencies on effective measures to counter the spread of the coronavirus, which can cause COVID-19. Read more below about the most recent recommendations and decisions in the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs’ policy areas of public health, medical care, social care and social insurance.

A man and a woman talking
Director-General of the Public Health Agency of Sweden Johan Carlson and Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren at a press conference on 1 April. Ms Hallengren urges everyone to take personal responsibility: “Keep your distance, refrain from non-essential travel in Sweden and do not visit older people. There is nothing more important than people’s lives and health.” Photo: Ninni Andersson/Government Offices of Sweden

The Government must be able to take quick decisions on temporary measures

On 7 April, the Government decided on a bill proposing that new powers be introduced into the Communicable Diseases Act. The legislative proposal would enable the Government to act quickly and take decisions on temporary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Measures that may be considered include temporarily limiting gatherings, temporarily closing shopping centres and other trading centres, temporarily suspending transport and temporarily enabling the redistribution of medicines and medical equipment. 
This is a temporary amendment that will be apply for three months, from 18 April until 30 June 2020.

General guidelines: Keep your distance and take personal responsibility

The Public Health Agency has produced new regulations and general guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Sweden. Private individuals must take the situation seriously and follow the guidelines and recommendations. This includes maintaining social distancing by keeping a distance from each other and refraining from non-essential travel within the country.

Restrictions on dispensing medications

As of 1 April, pharmacies are not allowed to dispense more medications than patients need for a three-month period. The restrictions on dispensing medications apply to medications for both people and animals.

The demand for medications has increased significantly recently. This is due in part to increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients in care needing treatment, but also to people collecting increased quantities of a number of different medications at retail pharmacies.

Currently, medications are only subsidised in the benefits scheme (i.e. medications covered by the high-cost protection scheme) if patients collect a three-month supply at most. If patients pay the full price for their medication, it is possible to collect a full year’s supply of prescription medications. Many patients have recently used this opportunity.

Following proposals from the Medical Products Agency, the Government is now restricting the dispensing of medications to the quantities patients need for three months, regardless of whether the medication is included in the high-cost protection scheme and regardless of whether the patient pays for their own medications. Exemptions can only be made for special reasons.

Visiting ban at care homes for older people

A ban on visiting all of the nation’s care homes for older people has been in place since 1 April to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People living in the nation’s care homes for older people are those who need to be protected most from the spread of the virus.

The Government previously issued a formal recommendation against visiting care homes for older people. Many municipalities have already introduced various forms of visiting bans, but the Government is now introducing uniform and clear rules for the entire country.

This is a general decision. The operator responsible for a given home may grant exemptions from the ban in individual cases.

Expanded national testing for COVID-19

Sweden is already carrying out extensive COVID-19 testing per capita. Up to 29 March, more than 36 000 people had been tested. But there is much to be gained from expanding this testing further. This is partly to continue ensuring the testing of priority groups in health and medical care, both among patients and staff, and partly to mitigate the impact on society and the economy of a large decline of staff in other particularly critical activities. Expanded national testing for COVID-19 will mean that a large proportion of critical workers will not need to stay home when in fact they are able to work.

To expand testing, the Government has therefore instructed the Public Health Agency to rapidly start to expand national COVID-19 testing and to lead the necessary actors.

The initial phase is testing to enable the identification of people who are infected with COVID-19. The second phase involves also introducing immunity testing for relevant groups. These groups may include staff in health and medical care, and social care, as well as staff in other activities that are considered particularly critical.

Ban on gatherings of more than 50 people

Since 29 March, it has been prohibited to hold public gatherings and public events for more than 50 people, as compared to the previous number of 500 people. This is not a general recommendation, but a formal Government decision. A breach of the ban is subject to a penalty. Anyone who organises such a gathering or event risks fines or imprisonment for up to six months. The police can also disperse a gathering that breaches the ban.

Table service only at restaurants

On 24 March, the Public Health Agency decided on additional measures to limit the spread of infection at restaurants, bars, cafés, school dining halls and other venues serving food and beverages. All venues must all ensure that tables are spaced appropriately to avoid crowding, thus reducing the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Consequently, people must always be seated when consuming any food or beverages.