The Public Health Agency of Sweden
Updated 9 November 2020

The Public Health Agency of Sweden’s work with COVID-19

The overall strategy to combat COVID-19 in Sweden is to minimise mortality and morbidity in the entire population and to minimise other negative consequences for individual persons and society.

To achieve these goals, medical and non-medical measures and communication efforts are used. Sweden’s approach to combat COVID-19 aims to slow down the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm the healthcare system and to protect the most vulnerable groups in our society

Legal framework with focus on own responsibility

The work is based on the Communicable Diseases Act (2004:168), which emphasises and places a responsibility on the individual not to spread disease, and other legal frameworks for the protection of public health, e.g. the Swedish Public Order Act (1993:1617). COVID-19 has been classified as a disease that is a danger to the general public. This means that the Public Health Agency of Sweden can issue regulations and take action and that the county medical officers can act on the basis of the mandate provided by the Communicable Diseases Act. For healthcare under the auspices of the regions and municipalities, the regulations of the National Board of Health and Welfare apply.

Analysis and knowledge development

Recommendations and decisions by the Public Health Agency of Sweden are made on the basis of daily assessments of the development of the COVID-19 pandemic and input from other responsible agencies at national level, the 21 regional medical officers and international actors such as the European Union and the World Health Organisation. We prepare analysis and modelling of the healthcare needs, and have continuous oversight in developments published in the international medical and scientific literature. For example, calculations on the maximum need for places in the inpatient and intensive care units with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic were developed for each of the 21 regions to support for local health care planning and preparedness.

Individuals and businesses contribute based on their roles

Swedish public health work is based on a strong tradition of voluntary measures with an emphasis on individual responsibility. Therefore, in the management of the pandemic, a combination of legally binding rules and recommendations by authorities is applied. Contact tracing, testing, hygiene and protective measures and physical distancing are used and adapted as the pandemic goes through different phases. Developments are carefully monitored in order to adapt or take new measures at the right time.

Some of the most important recommendations are to stay at home with the slightest symptom of an infection, to keep distance from others both outdoors and indoors and to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Specific risk groups, including those aged 70 and over, are encouraged to avoid close contact with others and to avoid places where many people gather. This advice is supplemented with other infectious disease control measures as it becomes necessary.

Examples of legally binding rules include a ban on public gatherings with more than 50 participants, visits to nursing homes and crowding in restaurants, cafés and bars. The legally binding rules are supplemented with guidelines that makes it easier for the population to follow rules and recommendations, such as calls to avoid public transport congestion and to work from home for those who have the opportunity. Operations and employers are responsible for adapting the activities to prevent the spread of infection.

Supportive actions make it easier to follow the advice

In order for the individual to be able to meet the government recommendations and the legally binding requirements, the government and parliament have, for example, decided to abolish the qualifying day of sickness, so that many workers can stay at home at the slightest symptom without major financial consequences. The requirement for a medical certificate for sick leave longer than seven days has also been removed in order to relieve the burden on primary care.

Focus on the health of the whole population

Different factors relating to physical and mental health and public health in general are taken into account when legally binding rules and other physical distancing and hygiene measures are put into place, even in the most acute phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.  For example, the current state of knowledge shows that few children and young people become seriously ill with COVID-19 and that they do not play a significant role in the spread of infection. At the same time, school is crucial for the wellbeing of young people in the short and long term. Primary and secondary schools have therefore been kept open. Furthermore, as an example, exercise and social interaction for people of all ages play an important role in health and restrictions have been implemented taking this into account when possible.

Communication a key tool

Extensive communication and dialogue with partners and different groups in society has been implemented in order for all people in our society to have the information that they need on how the situation is developing and actions that they can take. Throughout the pandemic, attitudes and behaviour are monitored in order for measures and communication to be adapted accordingly. The current state is communicated continuously at press meetings, through general high access for the media, as well as in reports from the agency, in social media and through web communication.

Measures that are sustainable over time

As it is believed that the COVID-19 will remain in society for a long time, it is important that legally binding rules and physical distancing and hygiene measures are designed in a sustainable manner so that they can be implemented over a long timeframe. This is a novel virus and we are only gradually learning more about how we can most effectively protect ourselves against it.


The Swedish government 

The National Board of Health and Welfare 

Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency

Press conferences at the Public Health Agency (in Swedish)

Important dates

17 January

Diagnostics for COVID-19 established in Sweden
Information letter: Diagnosis of coronavirus 2019-nCoV, a new virus that caused an outbreak of severe pneumonia in China (in Swedish)

February 1

COVID-19 is classified as a disease that is a danger to the general public
Press release: The government has made a decision due to the Public Health Agency of Sweden’s request regarding infection with coronavirus (2019-nCoV) (in Swedish)

28 February

Diagnostics for COVID-19 established at all university hospitals in the country

4 March

Call to the country's infection clinics and clinical microbiological laboratories for extended sampling and analysis indication for COVID-19

10 March

Advice on avoiding unnecessary visits to healthcare facilities and care for the elderly, due to very high risk of infection
Press conference: Press conference 10 March (in Swedish)

11 March

Ban on public gatherings of more than 500 people
News: Proposal: No public gatherings of more than 500 people (in Swedish)

13 March

Advice to stay at home if you have symptoms, to slow down the spread of infection in society
News: New phase calls for new efforts against COVID-19 (in Swedish)

16 March

Recommendation that people over 70 years of age should avoid close contact with others and those who have the opportunity should work from home
News: People over 70 should limit social contact until further notice (in Swedish)

Press conference: Press conference 16 March (in Swedish)

17 March

Upper secondary school, college and university should conduct teaching at a distance
News: Higher education institutions and upper secondary schools are now instructed to conduct distance learning (in Swedish)

19 March

Recommendation to avoid unnecessary travel
News: Think about whether the trip is really necessary (in Swedish)

23 March

Estimates of need for hospital needs are published
News: New estimates of how many hospital beds are needed due to COVID-19 (in Swedish)

24 March

Restaurants, bars and cafés must create distance between guests and are only allowed to serve at tables
News: New rules for restaurants and pubs (in Swedish)

27 March

Ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people
News: Proposal: Additional restrictions on public gatherings (in Swedish)

30 March

Ban on visits to nursing homes
Press release: National ban on visiting nursing homes (in Swedish)

1 April

The Public Health Agency of Sweden is tasked with increasing the number of tests
Government commissions: Commission to urgently expand the number of tests for COVID-19 (in Swedish)

News: Assignment for extended diagnostics of COVID-19 (in Swedish)

Everyone should keep their distance and take personal responsibility – regulated by new general guidelines
News: New general guidelines: Keep your distance and take personal responsibility (in Swedish)

17 April

This is how testing will be expanded
News: National strategy to expand COVID-19 testing (in Swedish)

7 May

How the risk of infection in nursing homes will be reduced – compilation of measures
News: Basic hygiene practices most important for protecting the elderly within the care system (in Swedish)

12 May

Results from the first national study on the COVID-19 case numbers are published
News: New results from study of COVID-19 case numbers in Sweden (in Swedish)

29 May

Upper secondary schools can open this autumn
News: Upper secondary schools can open this autumn semester (in Swedish)

How children are affected by COVID-19 - knowledge basis
Publication: COVID-19 in children and young people – a knowledge compilation (in Swedish)

How samples are taken in the care of the elderly
News: News about sampling in elderly care (in Swedish)

Website: Testing for COVID-19 in nursing home residents (in Swedish)

4 June

Continue to keep your distance from others even when travelling in Sweden
News: Efforts are needed to reduce the spread of infection in the event of increased travel (in Swedish)

13 June

New general guidelines for travel this summer
News: New general guidelines for travel this summer (in Swedish)