The Swedish Government’s Advice on Masks Is ‘’Fake News’’ in the Rest of the World

Why does the government continue to refuse to follow the international scientific community?

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The Royal Couple visit Karolinska Hospital on Oct. 13. Screenshot from Swedish Press Agency video.

On October 17, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Scott Atlas posted on Twitter “Masks work? No” followed by a series of misrepresentations about the science behind the effectiveness of masks in fighting COVID-19. Twitter confirmed on October 18 to CNN that it removed this content because it violated their rules which prohibits sharing false or misleading content related to COVID-19 that could lead to harm, stating that the tweet was in violation of the platform’s COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy.

In August both Facebook and Twitter removed a post by Trump where he falsely claimed in an interview that children are “almost immune” to the virus.

Yet, these are the same statements that the Swedish government, including the Swedish Public Health Authority, repeat ad nauseum.

In other words, if the Swedish government or the Public Health Authority tried to post their advice about masks on Twitter, it would be removed because they would be considered ‘’sharing false or misleading content related to Covid-19 that could lead to harm.’’

Last week while visiting Karolinska, the King and Queen had the following exchange about masks:

‘’I think many want to know why we are not recommended to wear them, because there are demands on them in so many other countries,’’ Queen Silvia said.

When the doctors present argued that masks often increase the risk of infection, even though the intention is the opposite, it made the king shake his head.

‘’I do not think it seems that anyone can explain that so that you actually understand,’’ answered Your Majesty.

If the architect of Sweden’s COVID-19 plan, Dr. Anders Tegnell, responded Twitter on the very important question the royal couple asked last week, it would likely be removed as well for sharing false or misleading content related to Covid-19 that could lead to harm. The State Epidemiologist’s explanation was: “Because it is much more important that we keep our distance. If we just keep our distance, we do not need a mask. The effect of masks when we are close to each other is difficult to evaluate. There are no good studies on it. And we must remember that several of the countries that have a very large spread of infection have had legislation on oral hygiene for long periods. So it is quite obvious that the mask are not going to save us from the pandemic. In general in society, they do not seem to have a great effect,’’ in response to the King’s question.

Yet Tegnell fails to take the following factors into consideration:

  • The studies do actually exist. Whether he or the government have read them is another matter, but there are over 70 scientific studies, that, in an overall assessment, provide convincing scientific support on the effectiveness of masks to reduce the spread in society both by protecting the people around the wearer and by protecting the wearer themselves.

The Queen and King are intelligent, inquisitive people who stand for human rights and the well-being of the population. They deserve an answer to their valid question about face masks based on scientific evidence and facts. Not a condescending dismissal, which was what Anders Tegnell gave them.

In addition to the above, wearing a mask leads to people becoming less sick if they do get infected, according to researchers at the University of California-San Francisco.

The King and Queen — and all of the people of Sweden — deserve an honest, transparent and scientific answer instead of alternative facts.

Now going into month eight of the pandemic, the government and the Public Health Authority have still not updated their advice on masks. Not even after leading scientific bodies including WHO, ECDC and US CDC along with 177 countries began to recommend masks.

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The refusal of the government to recommend masks puts doctor’s lives, patients’ lives and by extension the whole of the general population at risk.

Nursing homes were opened for visits without any recommendation for masks for staff or visitors. This is not ‘’protecting the elderly’’ no matter how many times the government says this is their priority. It’s simply not.

In an email I obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the Health Security Committee of the EU wrote on April 8: ‘’In Sweden, as the number of Covid 19 cases rapidly increase there is escalating need for critical care beds, beyond existing capacities. In all regions critical care capacities is rapidly being scaled up. To ensure optimal use of resources larger spaces for cohort care is the focus. Limiting factors are sufficiently trained staff, drugs and material including ventilators as well as protective gear.’’ Tegnell responded the same day to the Ministry of Social Affairs, his colleagues at the Public Health Authority and the National Board of Health and Welfare: ‘’But this is not really right we are not beyond capacity.’’ The callous disregard for the needs of health care providers and patients is astounding, and as my reporting for TIME Magazine showed, the reason that Sweden’s intensive care was not beyond capacity is because people were triaged out of care.

Every day health care providers are putting their own health and lives at risk caring for patients. Sweden is not immune to doctors and nurses dying from COVID-19 and they need to be protected too, without stigma.

My doctor friend Dorota Szlosowska, a pulmonologist in Sweden who was working at Sundsvall regional hospital, didn’t have her contract renewed because, according to an email on August 22 from her employer: ‘’Dorota walked around with a mouth guard, which showed / she was a bit stigmatized there at the clinic, when no one else had it. Patients have also not been able to understand what Dorota said.”

Another doctor friend, chief of department at Swedish hospital, was refused by his employer to wear masks that he bought himself in March.

Yet another friend, an ophthalmologist, has been trying to get her clinic to wear masks for months yet they still refuse to implement recommendations from Region Skåne for care close to the face.

Many have told me how they are ridiculed by their doctor colleagues for wearing masks, when all they are trying to do is protect their patients.

In Belgium, a family doctor who didn’t wear a face mask has been responsible for infecting at least 100 of his patients with Covid-19, which local authorities reported on Sunday.

It is probable the spread of infection from unprotected healthcare professionals this is happening in Sweden as well, but we do not know it because there is not the same widespread testing or contract tracing in place.

How many more people have to become sick and suffer or die before the government will update its advice and follow science?

Science does not know borders, just like the virus doesn’t, and it’s time that Sweden ends its denial. The international scientific community and 177 countries agree.

We are good at following rules in Sweden. If the government would simply recommend that people wear masks to protect themselves and others, especially in health care settings, on transit and indoor environments, the vast majority would.

Minister of Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren said on July 29 about masks “We do not have that culture” and about recommendations regarding masks in Sweden: “In Sweden, we do not make political decisions regarding protective equipment.” We will not review the Public Health Agency.”

It seems the culture of denial is stronger than anything else. The 177 countries that recommend masks have not ignored science and only made political decisions. As Politico reported on October 18 in a comprehensive review of how EU leaders have handled the pandemic: ‘’The [Swedish] plan has so far resulted in more than 100,000 infections and a case fatality ratio (the proportion of those infected who die) of 5.8 percent, on par with Sudan’s. The rate in neighboring Norway is just 1.7 percent. Sweden is still a model — at least among adherents of the corona-denying fringe.’’

Beyond the health benefits of masks, there are multiple economic studies (done by economists at Yale and Goldman Sachs) which show the economic value of wearing masks. Approximately 95% of the world lives in countries where the government and leading disease experts both agree that masks are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Eight months into the pandemic, we know more than we did in February. Massive knowledge has been gained. Over 60,000 studies have been published about COVID-19 now. Yet Sweden still hasn’t changed or updated its policies and changed approach.

Why is the Swedish government acting against the international scientific consensus?

It’s time for Sweden to desert the Flat Earth Society mentality and embrace the science that is available in order to save both lives and save livelihoods.

— Kelly Bjorklund
kelly@kellybjorklund.com

Läs detta på svenska här: Regeringens råd om masker är ‘Fake News’ i resten av världen.

Writer and Human Rights Activist. Consultant for civil society organizations and campaigns in the US, UK and Europe. Freelance for Radio Free Asia 2010–2017.

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