Many countries in Europe promote the use of face masks in public areas while Sweden does not. Even after the latest guidelines were released via the European Commission, the Scandinavian country still says, residents do not need to cover their faces.
"Face masks in public spaces do not provide any greater protection to the population," the Public Health Agency's general director Johan Carlson said at a press conference on Wednesday (May 13).
Swedish health and other top government officials have said social distancing, washing hands, not touching your face, and stay home if sick, are some of the best ways to limit the spread of COVID-19. They argue, wearing a face mask would make people less inclined to follow social distancing rules and provides a false sense of security as there is still a risk of transmission.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven also informed reporters at the press conference: "There is a risk of a false sense of security, that you believe that you can't be infected if you wear a face mask."
The Public Health Agency's website states that wearing a face mask increases the probability of the wearer touching their face.
"The virus can gather in the mask and when you take it off, the virus can be transferred to your hands and thereby spread further," Sweden's state epidemiologist Dr. Anders Tegnell told SVT.
"Face masks can be effective against larger free-floating particles [connected to air pollution], but nothing suggests that they help protect you from airborne viruses," Tegnell said.
SVT suggested other countries have enforced mask-wearing to make people feel safe, though as explained by Swedish officials, there's no concrete evidence that masks protect people from the virus.
Sweden is one of the only countries in Europe to take an entirely different path to the full lockdown approach. It has opted to keep its economy humming while limiting gatherings over 50, has kept shops, restaurants, and factories open, as health officials have preferred the "herd immunity" strategy blended with social distancing.
The country has paid the price for its radical approach, recording 3,646 fatalities by May 15, while Denmark, Norway, and Finland, three neighboring countries, have recorded about 1,000 deaths combined. Much of the deaths in Sweden have been concentrated in senior living facilities. Yet deaths per million, Sweden has the fourth highest in the world, behind Italy, UK, and France, which all imposed strict lockdowns.
It remains to be seen if limited mask-wearing and no lockdowns to develop herd immunity is working, or if the higher casualties were worth it to avoid economic depression.