“The situation is worrying and it is of the utmost importance to avoid a continued increase in the spread of infection and an increased burden on healthcare,” read a statement by regional authorities in Gävleborg, in central Sweden, on Monday.
The region on Saturday confirmed Sweden's first cases of the P.1 variant of the virus (which was first discovered in Brazil), but its warning on Monday focused mostly on the B.1.1.7 mutation (first discovered in the UK) which it said was spreading rapidly.
“The proportion of mutated virus variants has increased in the past four weeks and was about 42.8 percent in week seven [the week ending February 21st],” it said.
Under new regional recommendations, which come into effect on Tuesday, the region advises everyone to “use disposable face masks in situations where close contact, for longer periods of time in indoor environments, cannot be avoided”. That includes, for example, workplaces and at all times on public transport.
The region said it would contact workplaces where there are large outbreaks of coronavirus and advise people who work there to avoid public spaces and minimise their contact with other people, unless they have already had Covid-19 in the past six months. The new guidelines apply until March 10th.
These regional recommendations are stricter than Sweden's national guidelines, which only advise public transport users to wear masks from 7-9am and 4-6pm on weekdays. The Västra Götaland region last week also stepped up its own local recommendations, including extending its face mask guidelines to all hours of the day. Västerbotten also brought in local recommendations in February, urging people to avoid all non-essential travel.
Like elsewhere in Sweden, residents in these regions are urged to limit the number of people they socialise with, avoid crowded places and work from home if they can.
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