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Swedish towns ban face masks despite mounting Covid death toll

Vetoes follow a string of anti-mask statements by nation’s top officials

Towns across Sweden are banning the use of face masks despite facing the twin threats of widespread Covid outbreaks and a slow rollout of vaccines. 

Officials in Halmstad municipality recently forced a teacher to remove their mask and banned the use of all forms of PPE in schools. And while “the municipality eventually backed down”, other “examples of mask bans keep popping up in Sweden”, according to an article on The Conversation by two Swedish academics.

These “local mask bans” are a “logical product of nine months of consistent anti-mask statements by the Swedish state”, write Tine Walravens, assistant professor in international economics at the Copenhagen Business School, and Paul O'Shea, senior lecturer in South-East Asian Studies at Lund University.

The country’s “public health agency has consistently stated that masks are ineffective and that their use could actually increase the spread of Covid-19”, the pair explain. 

Indeed, as France24 notes, Sweden “stood apart from other nations by shunning lockdowns” throughout last year and was “one of the few holdouts in recommending widespread mask use, even after the World Health Organization changed their advice in June”. 

In the wake of the advice change, Health Minister Lena Hallengren said that the Swedish government did not have a culture of making decisions about protective clothing such as masks, and that the evidence supporting the wearing of face coverings was “astonishingly weak”.

Stockholm did eventually U-turn on face masks, with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven saying in December that the government was “recommending face masks and that they should be used on public transport at certain times”.

The government’s previous advice appears to have stuck, however, with continuing reports of localised mask bans even after Sweden imposed lockdown measures in early January, as the nation’s infection and death rates continued to outstrip those of Nordic neighbours.

Sweden has now reported more than 600,000 coronavirus cases and more than 12,000 related deaths. Meanwhile, fewer than four vaccine doses have been administered for every 100 people in the ten million-strong population, according to latest tracking from Oxford University.

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