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About the COVID-19 virus: for older people, people with health conditions and health and social care staff, 21 december

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Here you can read more about current measures in health and social care and health and social care staff. This is the seventh article in a series about the work of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in response to the COVID-19 virus.

Vaccination against COVID-19 started on 27 December

Now that the European Commission has approved Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, the vaccine can begin to be transported to Sweden, and vaccination was started at care homes for older people on 27 December. Sweden is receiving 9 750 doses in the first delivery, and they will be allocated to all the country’s regions. As deliveries are increased, more and more people will be vaccinated. The common objective of the Government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) is that everyone over 18 years and everyone under 18 years who is in a risk group will be offered vaccination in the first half of 2021.

The 180-day examination in sickness insurance to be stopped

The Government is proposing a temporary stop in the assessments in relation to work normally found in the labour market that have to be made at Day 180 in a sickness case under the present regulations. This is to prevent people with a long-term COVID-19 illness and other people who have sickness benefit from losing it, for example. The proposal is based on an agreement between the government parties, the Centre Party and the Liberal Party.

Further national restrictions to stop the spread of the infection

Limit travel, avoid crowding and celebrate Christmas and New Year in a small group -– that is the stricter advice from the Public Health Agency of Sweden ahead of the Christmas holidays. On 14 December stricter national regulations and general advice were also introduced about everyone’s responsibility for preventing COVID-19 infection. At the same time, the local general advice in place up to now in Sweden’s regions expired.

At a press meeting on 18 December further restrictions were presented to reduce the spread of infection; they include a ban on the sale of alcohol at eating and drinking establishments after 20.00, a maximum of four people in groups at restaurants, a ban on crowding in shopping centres, shops and gyms, remote or distance instruction at upper secondary schools, the closure of all non-essential state, municipal and regional services such as swimming baths up until 24 January (libraries, museums and swimming baths) and recommended use of face masks in public transport at certain times as of 7 January. Read more on the website of the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

Consultation started on draft of a temporary Pandemic Act

The Government has started a consultation on a draft of a temporary Pandemic Act for COVID-19. The purpose is to give the Government and other authorities better possibilities of taking measures to slow down the spread of infection, without placing restrictions on activities that can be held in an infection-proof way. This can, for example, involve limiting the number of visitors or opening hours or, as a last resort, closing certain activities. The temporary act will apply in addition to the Communicable Diseases Act and the Public Order Act. The proposal is for the Act to enter into force on 15 March 2021 and to cease to apply 31 March 2022.

More than SEK 9 billion for vaccines – no vaccine charge for individuals

Sweden has reached advance agreements with several vaccine manufacturers. The Government has made several announcements about vaccinations for COVID-19, including that there will be no vaccine charge for individuals and that the ambition is to offer vaccine to everyone over the age of 18 at the rate permitted by access to vaccines. Vaccination will be based on need. In its vaccination plan the Public Health Agency of Sweden has decided that older people, people in risk groups and staff in health and social care have priority.

The Government has announced that central government is taking and will continue to take great responsibility for vaccine and vaccination costs. SEK 300 million has been allocated to the regions’ ongoing preparations. The Government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) have reached an agreement on vaccination for COVID-19; the agreement means, for instance, that central government undertakes to pay for vaccines and vaccinations while the regions are responsible for carrying out the vaccinations. Along with previous announcements, the agreement means that central government is providing more than SEK 9 billion for vaccines and vaccinations.

As part of Nordic cooperation, Sweden has undertaken to sell Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on to Norway and Iceland on behalf of the EU. This sale does not affect the doses already allocated to Sweden, and relates to doses that EU Member States have jointly made available to Norway and Iceland in a spirit of solidarity.

The Government welcomes the COVID-19 Commission’s interim report

On Tuesday 15 December the COVID-19 Commission presented its first interim report, focusing on the spread of infection in health and social care for older people, to the Government. The COVID-19 Commission’s conclusions show that almost 90% of the more than 7 500 people who died in Sweden were 70 years or older, and almost half of them were living in special housing. The general community spread of the coronavirus is identified as the single most important cause of its spread in the care of older people.

The Commission’s conclusions identify structural shortcomings in the care of older people and find that these services were ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic, partly on account of inadequate regulatory frameworks, organisational deficiencies, staffing and a lack of medical expertise. The Government welcomes the COVID-19 Commission’s interim report, which will be an important starting point for future reforms; intensive work is already under way for more robust care of older people and more robust legislation in the area.

Central Government and SALAR agree on rapid tests

Antigen tests, called ‘rapid tests’, can be used to supplement PCR testing when there is a need for greater test capacity. They can, for instance, be used in sensitive settings such as special housing for older people or to maintain regular activities in out-patient care at an emergency clinic for patients who have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking care for some other reason. Central government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) have reached an agreement that means that central government will co-finance the use of antigen tests and the regions undertake to carry out the testing.

Extension of temporary measures in sickness insurance

The Government intends to propose and adopt an extension of temporary sickness insurance measures on account of COVID-19. The measures are intended to reduce the spread of infection, reduce the burden on health care, enhance financial security and alleviate the consequences for employers. The proposal is based on an agreement between the government parties, the Centre Party and the Liberal Party. At present, the temporary measures apply until and including 31 December 2020. Here are the extensions that the Government intends to decide on:

  • compensation at a standard amount of SEK 810 for the sick pay standard deduction;

  • compensation to sole traders for their first 14 waiting days at a standard amount of SEK 810 per day;

  • compensation to employers for the part of excess sick pay costs above the normal level;

  • requirement of a doctor’s certificate deferred from the 8th to the 15th day of a sickness case.

The measures are being extended up to and including 30 April 2021.

The Government has previously announced that exemptions in sickness benefit from the examination in relation to work normally found in the labour market when care or rehabilitation is cancelled are being extended to 30 June 2021. The Government will revert in the above matters.

Government decision to extend temporary parental benefit

On 17 December the Government decided to extend the temporary measures on account of COVID-19 that apply to temporary parental benefit. The measures are intended to reduce the spread of infection, reduce the burden on health care and enhance financial security. The measures are being extended up to and including 30 April 2021.

The measures covered by today’s Government decision are:

  • temporary parental benefit in conjunction with school closures;

  • preventive temporary parental benefit for parents of certain rece

  • seriously ill children who need to be protected from infection;

  • exemption from the requirement of a doctor’s opinion to prove the need for special care and supervision for the right to temporary parental benefit in certain situations for children aged between 12 and 16 years.

Reinforced research in health and welfare equips Sweden for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of medical research and innovation. Thanks to rapid action by researchers all over the world, several vaccines have already been developed. In its bill on research and innovation the Government presents investments in health, welfare and life sciences of around SEK 0.5 billion per year – investments that will contribute to Sweden being better equipped to face any new pandemics and other health challenges.

SEK 500 million for crisis support to health and social care staff

The outbreak of COVID-19 had resulted in challenges and a high workload for staff in welfare services. The Government considers that it is very important that they are offered support to work through their experiences of the pandemic. A total of SEK 500 million will be paid to Sweden’s municipalities and regions for crisis support, talk support or trauma support for the professions that have experienced negative impacts of the pandemic in their work.

The Government proposes extending exemptions in the rehabilitation chain

Because health care has had to make a transition on account of COVID-19, many patients have had their care and rehabilitation postponed. The Government is therefore proposing an extension of the temporary exemption from the examination in relation to work normally found in the labour market at Day 180 and Day 365 of the rehabilitation chain when care, treatment or rehabilitation is cancelled or postponed.

Updated scenarios for the development of COVID-19

The Government has commissioned the Public Health Agency of Sweden to continuously update scenarios for what the development of the COVID-19 outbreak may be like in the future. At the same time, the National Board of Health and Welfare and the county administrative boards were commissioned to propose action that may be needed on the basis of the updated scenarios and to produce plans for how this action can be implemented. Developing scenarios is an important tool for authorities and other actors in society in planning their work and measures to reduce the spread of the infection.

At the same time, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) is to produce descriptions of potential impacts on society.

Personal assistants receive compensation for personal protective equipment

COVID-19 has resulted in additional costs for purchases of personal protective equipment for personal assistants. The Government has therefore adopted a new ordinance that means that compensation for protective equipment will be paid retroactively for the period 1 February 2020 to 30 November 2020. A total SEK 50 million is being allocated to this purpose.

Continued programme of large-scale testing

Sweden also needs to be able to continue to maintain large-scale testing and tracing of COVID-19 as important tools for combating the spread of infection in the country. The Government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) have therefore agreed to extend their testing and tracing agreement. The extended agreement applies to the whole of 2021 and means that central government will meet the costs and contribute through the national testing capacity of the Public Health Agency of Sweden. The regions undertake to perform testing and tracing on the basis of the recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Sweden.

The Government is extending the commission of the county administrative boards to assist the regions, in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Sweden, in the continued work of testing for COVID-19. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is also given an extended commission to ensure that  conditions are in place for large-scale testing for COVID-19 throughout the country.

Possibility of local bans on visits to care homes for older people

In the middle of November the Government saw an increase in the spread of the infection, and the people living in the country’s care homes for older people are those who need to be protected to the greatest degree from the virus. The Government therefore decided that, when required, the Public Health Agency of Sweden may decide on local bans on visits to care homes for older people. The decision means that we now have one more tool for combating the infection. The ordinance entered into force on 21 November 2020 and applies until 28 February 2021.