Sweden is to recommend the use of face masks on public transport during rush-hour, the last country in Europe to adopt the measure.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said yesterday: "The public health agency is going to recommend the use of face masks on public transport at certain times. We need to do more now because there is a strained situation in healthcare."
With a total number of deaths close to 8000, Sweden's death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns, such as Britain, Spain, France and Belgium.
Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, and Johan Carlson, the health agency's director, have long resisted recommending face masks, saying they give a false sense of security and risk encouraging the public to stop keeping a distance from one another.
The face masks recommendation is one of a barrage of new restrictions and recommendations that will come into force from Christmas Eve.
Sweden's king, Carl XVI Gustaf, earlier declared the country's handling of the pandemic a failure, pointing to the "terrible" death toll of close to 8000 people, and the "sorrow and frustration" felt by those who have lost loved ones.
In an interview recorded for the royals' annual Christmas television programme, the king delivered a harsh verdict on Sweden's light-touch strategy.
I think we have failed," he said. "A large number of people have died, put quite simply, and that's terrible. It's something that we all have to suffer."
The king's intervention reflected growing criticism of the government and its agencies, both from the media, opposition politicians and from the public.
The country's coronavirus commission heavily criticised both the government and the public health agency on Tuesday for their failure to prevent the virus from cutting a swathe through elderly care homes.
The country has tightened restrictions over the past month, reducing the size of allowed public gatherings to eight people, returning upper secondary schools students to distance learning, and banning the sale of alcohol after 10pm. But there are growing calls for a harder lockdown.
The country has registered more than 1000 coronavirus deaths this month, bringing the total to 7800. More than 70 new deaths are now being registered each day, on a seven-day, rolling average, bringing the country ever closer to its mid-April peak.
The state epidemiologist has refused to say whether he now believes the country's strategy has been a failure.
"Of course, the high number of deaths is deeply regrettable and we need to work hard to try and understand what we can do better to prevent it from happening again," he said at a recent press conference.
"I think whether we call it a failure or not is something we have to leave to those who investigate this issue in the question."
Asked whether he believed the king was wrong, he said: "I have no opinion on what the king says or believes."