Sweden says no need for face masks as COVID-19 deaths top 7,000

FILE PHOTO: Nursing staff shows a new quick test kit for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Skane University Hospital in Lund, Sweden November 12, 2020. TT News Agency/Johan Nilsson via REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden has not needed face masks yet, a top health official said on Thursday, as deaths from the pandemic climbed above 7,000 and a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) expanded recommendations for when masks should be used.

The WHO said on Wednesday that, where the epidemic was spreading, people - including children and students aged 12 or over - should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, and when receiving visitors at home in poorly ventilated rooms.

However, the Swedish Health Agency, largely behind Sweden’s no-lockdown strategy, has refrained from recommending masks, citing poor evidence of their effectiveness and fears that masks might be used as an excuse to not isolate when experiencing symptoms.

“Face masks may be needed in some situations. Those situations have not arisen in Sweden yet, according to our dialogue with the (healthcare) regions,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, told a news conference on Thursday.

“WHO is clear that the state of evidence for masks is weak. All studies so far suggest that it is much more important to keep your distance than to have a face mask,” he said.

In a bid to stem a severe second wave, Prime minister Stefan Lofven announced on Thursday that high schools would switch to distance learning for the rest of the year. [S3N2CP02M]

Sweden registered 35 new COVID-19 related deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 7,007.

The country also registered 6,485 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. That compared with a high of 7,240 daily cases recorded two weeks ago.

Sweden’s death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours, but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter