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Sweden is seeing a spike in demand for face masks, several pharmacists have said, ahead of a possible U-turn by the authorities, who have so far doubted their effectiveness.

Unlike most other European countries, Sweden has kept many businesses, restaurants and most schools open, while not recommending the use of face masks, which remain a rare sight unlike in neighbouring Denmark, Norway and Finland.

But after the public health agency (FHM) said two weeks ago that it may issue new recommendations, Swedes appear to be stockpiling.

Face mask sales at the online pharmacist Apotea have increased to around 400,000 units a week in the past two to three weeks from 150,000 in previous weeks, the chief executive, Par Svärdson, said.

Apoteket reported a jump in face mask sales of about 30% in the same weeks, to weekly levels equivalent to an entire year’s turnover, according to a spokesman.

“It feels like FHM, from their previous hard line of saying ‘no’, are now open to looking at saying ‘yes’,” Svärdson said, adding he would expect a five- to tenfold increase in face mask sales in the event of a change in recommendations over their use.

Sweden has so far rejected recommending or making mandatory the use of face masks in some public spaces, as many countries in Europe have done. The health agency’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has said they have little proven effect and could lead to a false sense of security among wearers.

But the health agency director general, Johan Carlson, told a press conference on 18 August that there may be situations – such as doctor and dentist visits and on public transport – where face mask recommendations could be issued.

Sweden’s death toll relative to its population has far outstripped those of its neighbours although it remains lower than in some European countries that adopted strict lockdowns such as Britain and Spain.

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