STOCKHOLM, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) -- Sweden will lift its national ban on visits to elderly homes, the government announced on Tuesday.
Introduced on April 1, the ban has been extended several times with the latest extension expiring on Oct. 1. At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Swedish Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren said it would not be extended beyond that date.
However, Hallengren warned that the pandemic is not over and that visits must be carried out safely.
"There is a risk with lifting the ban and I want everyone to act responsibly," Hallengren said at the press conference, which was held jointly with representatives from the Public Health Agency and the National Board of Health and Welfare.
The government's decision is based on an assessment by the National Board of Health and Welfare, which in a press statement pointed out that the general rate of infection, as well as the infection rate at nursing homes around the country, have fallen significantly. Nursing homes are also better equipped now to carry out testing and to handle hygiene routines and other strategies for containing the virus, the statement said.
The Board said its recommendation for lifting the ban was based on an assessment that a long-term halt to visits may have a negative impact on elderly people's health as they end up feeling isolated and lonely.
In May, the Board published figures which showed that out of the 19,430 Swedes who had tested positive for COVID-19 by April 28, around 40 percent aged 70 or older, and 90 percent of those who had died up until that point were beyond 70. Half of them lived in nursing homes and 26 percent received some form of home care.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Sweden had registered 87,345 COVID-19 cases, with a total of 5,851 deaths.