July 20, 2020 / 5:28 PM / 25 days ago

Sweden says people infected with COVID-19 should do contact tracing themselves

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s health agency said on Monday it was changing its COVID-19 contact-tracing guidelines so that tracing is done to a larger extent by the individuals infected.

A sign promoting social distancing is pictured in the Gallerian shopping center, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Stockholm, Sweden, May 12, 2020. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS/Files

The new guidance breaks from a strategy adopted by most countries where authorities trace and notify people who have had close contact with a carrier of the disease.

An agency spokeswoman said it was much better that individuals themselves contact people they may have infected, rather than official tracking units which currently have this responsibility.

The existing system worked well when the number of infections was lower but had become less effective as the number grew, she said.

Unlike most tracing systems, the Swedish system is not anonymous as individuals are expected to deliver the news of their infection to anyone they’ve been in close contact with.

It is not yet clear how this will work in practice or whether authorities will check up on this do-it-yourself arrangement.

The health agency is expected to issue full guidelines in the coming days.

Although the number of infections in Sweden has slowed in recent weeks, a total of 78,048 people have been infected since the pandemic began, a figure far outstripping its Nordic neighbours.

Sweden decided to forego a hard lockdown and keep most schools open, and allow businesses to stay open, throughout the outbreak, a strategy that set it apart from most of Europe.

The spokeswoman said the new guidelines will not apply to individuals who are too ill to carry out the responsibility and that authorities will have the discretion in certain cases to do the tracing rather than the patient.

Reporting by Colm Fulton; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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